There was a time in my life when I was an employee and thought that being an employee was a logical consequence of needing to pay bills while being alive without being independently rich. Therefore, I believed that it was a perfectly natural condition, or state of being if you will, for most humans.

I was an employee for a relatively short time, about 7 years, in Europe, Japan, and the United States. After I returned from Japan to United States in 1986, I went through four stupid jobs in San Francisco within about a year, each lasting just a few months before I quit, or was fired, as was the case in my last job. I thought that the problem was that I could not find employment with the “perfect” job for me, or at least one that would be good enough for me as the previous ones were. I was very unhappy during that time period between 1986 and 1987.

I was a ronin (drifter), an aimless, masterless samurai without a sword and without a lord. I needed a job that would be creative, useful and kind of mysterious, which is to say a job that only a few chosen ones could do well, myself among them.

But all that I could find during that stressful time were stupid jobs that I had to take to pay the rent. Fortunately, eventually it dawned on me that a boring and useless nine-to-five job that pays the rent is not what the universe wants me to do for the next few decades.

No, that was not my purpose in the Divine Order of the Universe. Some people don’t care about esoteric nonsense like wondering about what our purpose in life is. They just do what they think needs to be done for the money. And I don’t judge them. As Woody Allen put it, “Money is better than poverty, if only for financial reasons”. But money without understanding my purpose in the Divine Order of the Universe is not enough for me.

My real purpose was to eventually become an independent contractor, which was what I did already in the nineteen eighties, back when just about everybody was earning a living as an employee, often working interminable hours in a boring, mind-numbing job.

One of the worst jobs that I ever had, even worse than several other stupid jobs I had in several countries, was when I was working for about 8 months for the US Army in West Germany, from January until August of 1982. This was shortly after I “illegally” left Czechoslovakia and became a refugee in Germany in the summer of 1981 at a time when the Solidarity movement in Poland was testing the response of the communist government to its demands and most people, including myself, expected that Russian tanks would soon invade Poland to enforce a strict, Stalinist order in that country as they did 14 years earlier in Czechoslovakia, ending a short-lived period of liberalization there for the next 21 years.

So when a Polish friend asked me whether I would be interested in joining him and a bunch of other young Polish dudes who also left their country and were waiting for approval for immigrant visas to United States, Canada and Australia to get a civilian job with the US Army in Germany while “sitting on the luggage” as he put it in Polish, I did not hesitate and joined the group of young Polish émigrés (and one Slovak) and applied for a job whose intriguing title in English was “splicer”.

Except that I did not do much splicing, of cables or of anything else, during the 8 months that I was a civilian employee working for US Army in Germany while waiting for my visa to America to be approved. The approval process took many months, more than a year, because the organization that was my sponsor, which was called American Fund for Czechoslovak Refugees and was funded by old Czech and Slovak émigrés in United States, had to first find me a place to live and I had to go through an interview at the US consulate in Frankfurt, as well as pass a medical exam, to make sure that that people like me would not become a burden to US taxpayers.

The main problem for me with the job in Germany was that once we were accepted as civilian employees, we had very little to do. Most of the time, we were just sitting in a wooden shed in the motor pool of US Army barracks, waiting from 9 AM until 5 PM for instructions to travel to other US Army bases in Frankfurt, Worms, or somewhere else where they actually had a little work for us to do. And since I am not very good at manual work, most of the time I was just standing around even when I was working, holding a ladder or something like that, again waiting for 5 PM to call it a day.

I was bored out of my mind. I hated having nothing to do. This is so stupid, I thought. Why is America wasting all this money on us when they have nothing to do for us?

It was only many years later, when I was much older and maybe a tiny bit wiser that I did realize that what the army was doing with us was in fact pretty smart. Although we were not soldiers, we were issued military uniforms and we had to work in those uniforms. We slept in the military barracks and ate in the military canteen. We did not have to do that, but it was free, a part of our benefits, like free healthcare and vacation days, so most of us went for it to save money for the next destination overseas, including myself.

We were also given some training for things like how to assemble and dissassemble a gun and basic information about chemical weapons. It was very similar to what I went through only a few years ago in the Czechoslovak Army.

What I did not understand then, and what I think I understand now, is that in addition to rather inexpertly splicing a few cables now and then, our real job was to be a ready pool of manpower for the military in case of a military conflict should the Soviet Union invade Poland back in 1981 or 1982.

We all had several years of military training back in our original countries, and we all hated the communist regimes imposed on the countries in Central Europe by Soviet Union so much that we decided to leave our home country for good rather than to put up with the idiotic regime.

Had we been offered enlistment in US army in exchange for a promise of an immigrant visa, green card and citizenship after the required waiting period (1 year for the green card and 7 years for citizenship), most of us would have gone for it.

I certainly would have. I wanted to do something, anything to speed up the collapse of the totalitarian system in my country, if only by a minute or two.

And in case of a conflict, the US Army could have used people like me, young people who had the proper motivation, military training, and spoke Russian and Polish.

Fortunately, after the Solidarity movement was crushed by the Polish government led by General Jaruzelski who declared martial law in December of 1981, the Soviet Politburo decided that unlike in Hungary or Czechoslovakia years ago, a military invasion was not necessary and instead let their Polish comrades to deal with the rebellious Poles on their own.

So although I did not understand it then, the months of having nothing to do and waiting around dressed in military uniform in a motor pool were not really a complete waste of time as I thought, and in fact, what I considered a total waste of time was perfectly aligned with my purpose in the Divine Order of the Universe.

Fortunately, my personal contribution to what was happening in Poland in 1981 and 1982 was not required by the Divine Order of the Universe. My immigration visa came through in August, and just like that, I found myself as a new immigrant in San Francisco, as I described in several posts in this blog.

A few years later, the totalitarian communist system in Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe collapsed of its own wait, without a single shot, and I was able to visit my old country as an American tourist. And a few years after that, my old country joined NATO and the European Union.

Although nothing seems to work very well in political developments in Europe or the United States right now, things worked extremely well, at least from my perspective, back at the end of ninteen-eighties.

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Posted by: patenttranslator | May 11, 2019

Beware of Fake Marshmallow Tests

The marshmallow test is a name that was given to a famous experiment conducted originally by psychologists at the Stanford University in the nineteen sixties on little children. During the test, the sly psychologists put a marshmallow in front of children and told them that they could have another marshmallow for a grand total of two marshmallows if they could wait for 15 minutes before starting to stuff their faces with the candy in front of them.

Some children, possibly the future brilliant leaders of America, displayed an iron, incredibly strong will, waited for the promised second marshmallow and then happily got to eat two of them. Some, probably most of them, could not resist the temptation and therefore received only one marshmallow.

We are all subjected to many marshmallow tests throughout our lives, for instance when we make a decision whether to get a job at a young age, or whether to study for years a certain subject in a certain field, which in some countries (but not all of them) implies also taking on a crushing debt to be repaid over many years, for a promise of a more lucrative occupation than what would one be able to earn with a job a blue-collar line of work later in life. Unlike in the case of the children who took the marshmallow test at Stanford University, the promise of a reward in the form a well-paid job in real life of course later sometime turns out to be a damn lie.

The name given to the process occurring during marshmallow test in our brain, whether it is already fully developed or not yet, is called delayed gratification. Sometime it makes a lot of sense to delay the pleasure of eating a marshmallow because then we get to eat two of them. But sometime, if you wait too long or if you deal with a cheater, somebody may steal the single marshmallow that a moment ago was sitting right in front of you if you don’t eat it quickly enough.

Since we are given many marshmallow tests throughout our live, we need to keep in mind that a marshmallow in hand may be better than two promised ones, especially if they were promised by a politician.

For instance, a couple of years ago I had to make a choice when to file for Social Security payments, also known as old age pension. I could have filed early at the age of sixty-two, but had I done that, my old age pension would be reduced by 25%, I think. Many people simply have no choice and file as soon as they become eligible for some money and accept the bitter pill of a big reduction in income for the rest of their life. Fortunately for me, I was not quite in that situation. Or I could have waited until I turn 70, and the pension would then grow by 30% above the 100% promised at the “full” retirement age of 66 (which will soon be raised to 67).

But would I even still be alive by then? Or healthy enough to enjoy my pension after the age of 70? And what about the marshmallows, or the money, that I would be losing every month? I did not want to wait that long. In the end, I sat down, calculated all of the marshmallows that I would be losing if I wait until the age of 70 and decided that the best age for me was to file at the age of 64.5. So that was what I did.

Most of the time, we are not really conscious of the fact that we are given a marshmallow test. Especially people who work as independent contractors are given many marshmallow tests by people who are trying to figure out how to best take advantage of the independent contractors who will work for them by giving them a fake marshmallow test so that they could pay them less.

The way this happens is when during a fake marshmallow test for translators, they are promised by translation agencies that if they accept a certain way of working and for example counting the words a certain way (with tools like Trados, for instance), they will receive 5, 6, 7 or even more marshmallows instead of a lousy singly one.

But as we all known, what happened instead during this particular fake marshmallow test pandemic was that even though translators were able to translate many more words with an obligatory tool, almost always at the expense of quality, their remuneration was reduced so drastically by the word-miscounting tool that instead of receiving 5, 6, or 7 marshmallows for producing many more words, in the  end they received only half a marshmallow.

The general acceptance of magical CATs by so many translators, and in particular of the marshmallow-devouring CAT concepts for counting words, or rather not counting some words, called “fuzzy matches” and “full matches”, by translators in the last two decades or so is a big reason why translators are now making significantly less money than they used to twenty years ago.

When some translators now proudly state in their résumé that they use Trados, they do so to demonstrate to potential translation agency customers, if we can call them that, in the so-called translation industry, by showing how well versed they are in the modern tools of trade of the industry.

All newbies proudly state that they use Trados, without realizing that they are only advertising in this manner their willingness to be cheated by the agencies when they accept an order to use a certain kind of a tool by a translation agency, a tool that is very handy for wage theft that is by now widely practiced in the industry, unlike translators who understand that what kind of tool they use is nobody’s damn business.

As far as I know, nobody ever asked Dostoevsky what kind of ink, pen or paper he was using to write Crime and Punishment with, and I am pretty sure that if he were ordered to use a certain kind of tool for his work by his publishing house, he would send them all to hell and change his publisher.

Of course, unlike in the times of Dostoevsky, we now all have to use a computer with a word-processing program that is compatible with what everybody else is using, we have to be able to use internet and I hear that even CATs like Trados may be useful for some kind of translations, although I kind of doubt it.

But our professionalism, if there is such a thing in the translating profession, if that is even a profession, is not measured by what kind tool we use for our work, but by what we have in our head, what we are able to do with it, and how clever we are in finding, choosing and keeping or dumping our customers.

Especially if yet another marshmallow test is being unleashed on unsuspecting translators by the so-called translation industry, it’s best to keep in mind that instead of giving us more marshmallows, the industry is most likely conducting another fake marshmallow test aimed at preventing us from keeping even the few marshmallows that they used to give us … so that more marshmallows would be left for translation agencies.

Posted by: patenttranslator | May 4, 2019

Is This a Rebellion?

It is an undeniable fact that globalization and continued development of information technology and artificial intelligence have been taking a huge bite (byte) out of the income of many professions for several decades now.

We translators are hardly the only ones who have been affected by these developments. It kind of started already some four decades ago when ATMs began replacing bank tellers. At this point, no profession seems to be bulletproof to the threat of cheap and nasty robots.

According to Andrew Yang, Democratic Presidential Candidate for 2020, one third of all Americans will lose their jobs to AI and automation in the next 12 years. Some economists estimate that as much as 50% of all jobs may become eliminated by automation and artificial intelligence. (Good thing I’m retired)!

To stave off massive unemployment, Andrew Yang is proposing a guaranteed universal income of 1,000 US dollars for all American adults, whether they are working or not. He calls the UBI, which stands for Universal Basic Income, a “Peace Dividend”. A test of this concept has been already tried on a small scale in Finland, which is also being referred to as the happiest country on the planet. Switzerland rejected the idea to give a UBI to every citizen in a referendum in 2016, with almost 77 per cent of the voters saying ‘no’, while 23 per cent were in favor, and other countries are reportedly also considering it.

Obviously, a thousand bucks is not enough to pay the bills, not in the United States, anyway, so most people would still need to work. But it would be a godsend to tens of millions of people who are presently in America living paycheck to paycheck or scraping by on low incomes. The question is, what kind of unintended consequences would there be if UBI were to be accepted? Wouldn’t greedy landlords raise their rents, perhaps by as much as a thousand dollars, if they knew that their tenants now had some money for a change? Wouldn’t ruthless translation agencies lower the already low rates they pay to translators in Western countries, perhaps all the way to a cent or two cents per word, if they thought they could get away with it? They probably would.

But something has to be done because the robots are coming to steal the work from a large segment of the population which, nevertheless, still needs to eat. Even the rich seem now to start realizing that a very explosive situation will be created if the present trend continues and that it might be hard for them to keep hiding in walled-off, secluded mansions. When a CEOs salary corresponds to 300 to 400 times the average salary of an average worker as it does now in the United States (but not in Western Europe or Japan, at least not yet), although a couple of decades ago the difference was at least ten times smaller, while a large segment of the population cannot find even poorly paid work, it’s easy to see that this is a recipe for a coup to be led either by proto-communist or proto-fascist factions. 

“Mais c’est une révolte”? (Is this a rebellion?) asked King Louis XVI, the last king of France, the Duke de La Rochefoucould at the court in Versailles in 1792. “Non, Sire, c’est une révolution”, (No, Sire, it’s a revolution), responded the Duke, who was a little bit better informed than the king about what was going on in the country, because just about everybody was. By January of next year, the king found out what kind of rebellion it was when he lowered his head on the scaffold to be beheaded by a guillotine at the Place de la Revolution in Paris.

A few weeks before the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, of 1989, none of the functionaries who ruled a country that was walled off from the world behind watch towers and barbed wire that was so inappropriately called German Democratic Republic, had any idea that their reign was about to end, that the country would soon be no more, and that they would be facing accusations of crimes against the people they have been teorrorizing for four decades in court.

The same thing happened in communist Czechoslovakia during a so-called Velvet Revolution between November 17 and December 29, 1989, once the formerly obedient police finally refused to shoot into protesting students in Prague. Within a few weeks, the government fell and the new one was then led by a former dissident who spent years in communist prisons for daring to speak his mind.

Once things start changing, they often change unpredictably and very quickly.

Once a seemingly impenetrable wall is breached, power structures that have been built diligently for decades or centuries melt like ice cream in hot sun.

Because replacing various components of complicated welfare systems that have been created and are being governed by the ruling classes in so many countries by a Universal Basic Income system would take too much power away from omnipotent bureaucrats, I don’t think that it will happen by 2020.

It will probably happen at some point, but not without a revolution that at first might start as a mere rebellion.

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 28, 2019

Is It Even Possible to Retire Voluntarily When You Are a Translator?

If one defines “retirement” as the period towards the end of life when you no longer have to work because you receive every month a fixed income on which it is possible to live quite well without working, I have been retired for quite some time as I have been fortunate to reach this kind of situation about a year ago.

For the last few months I have been following heart-breaking stories in several languages on Youtube, for instance about poor seniors in Germany who find it impossible to make the ends meet with a pitifully low state pension. If you speak German, go to Youtube and type in the search field for instance “Arme Rentner in Deutschland” (poor pensioners in Germany). You will discover titles such as [my translations]: ‘Waiting in Lines for Old Bread’, ‘Old, Poor, Criminal, Old Pensioners Working Their Whole Lives for Nothing’, ‘Scandal: Rich Germany – Poor Pensioners, Old-Age Poverty – Liselotte (71) has only 3.50 Euros a Day for Eating‘.

It appears that the German politicians dropped the ball when it comes to creating a well-functioning pension system for most people in Germany where many seniors are forced to live in dire poverty, unlike for example the seniors in Austria or Switzerland. What happened to Germany? When I lived there in the early eighties, it was to me a perfect example of a well-designed socialist system, that is to say a social democracy that is based on a capitalist economy and democratic principles. And how is it possible that in other German-speaking countries, most seniors are quite affluent compared to their German counterparts?

The situation of pensioners in France may not be much better, or even worse, which is why the Yellow Vests have been in the streets of Paris and other French cities for many months now.

Because I moved from pricey Virginia to Southern Bohemia where the cost of living is quite a bit lower, and because after paying US taxes for 37 years, I have a generous US Social Security income, corresponding to four average local pensions, topped with a modest but important Czech pension. The Czech pension is important because it automatically pays my health insurance premiums and most healthcare-related expenses for pensioners in this country. And as far as I know, it would continue doing so even if I decided to move to another EU country. Had I decided to stay in Germany four decades ago, I might have serious money problems at this point.

So I don’t really need to work. And yet, I continue working, and probably will continue doing so also in the foreseeable future. I work much less now than I used to, mostly as an agency at this point rather than as a translator, but it looks like I will keep doing my thing for the foreseeable future and if I ever stop working completely, it will be probably for health reasons, when I’m too old to even put together a translation project, let alone translate myself … if I live that long.

So far I have lost only one project since I moved from Virginia to České Budějovice six months ago. It was a nice and lucrative translation project from a client in Western Europe, a patent law firm that sent me two similar projects twice already in the past couple of years. But I did not even put in my bid for the project although I knew that this meant that the client would not come back again with the same kind of thing next year. I was in terrible pain and could not really think about anything else except how to get rid of the pain as I wrote in the Kidney Stones post on this blog.

So the law firm is unfortunately gone for good. But others still continue sending me work. This week I‘ve had four smallish projects so far from two old clients in United States and I now still have one more for next week.

If you have been following the development in the United States when it comes to Democratic presidential hopefuls for the 2020 presidential election, 20 candidates have declared that they are running, including Bernie Sanders, who is well into his seventies, and creepy Joe Biden, who is also long in the tooth (but still likes to smell women’s hair). Along with Tulsi Gabbard, a fearless woman whom I admire immensely, my favorite Democratic candidates include Andrew Young, a young Chinese-American who was born to immigrant parents from Taiwan, and who has a solution for millions of people who are already or will soon be facing the prospect of losing their jobs to globalization and artificial intelligence. This would arguably include also a number of medical occupations, such as anesthesiologists or doctors reading X-ray or ultrasound images to create a diagnosis, some legal professions, or specialized translators such as myself.

Andrew Young wants to help solve the problems caused by globalization and artificial intelligence (which I call robotization) with something that he calls the Freedom Dividend – a universal basic income (UBI) of $1000/month to be paid to every adult American who is not already receiving for example a greater amount in Social Security payment as I am. He calls his concept of the new system, which is similar to the oil dividend that has been distributed for many decades to residents of Alaska and to what was proposed already by the founders of United States more than two centuries ago “Human-Centered Capitalism.”

What he is saying makes a lot of sense to me, I will vote for him if he is on the presidential ticket in 2020, but I doubt it will happen. I think it’s much more likely that creepy Joe Biden will represent the corrupt Democrats, and that the Wall Street and the super-rich will put him in the White House to essentially continue the policies of Obama and Trump.

But it should be an interesting political campaign anyway, at least during the Democratic primaries: Creepy Joe against Fearless Tulsi and Idealistic Andrew – unless the Democratic establishment pulls the carpet from under him and other young people with new ideas, which they are almost certain to do.

But let’s come back to the main theme of my silly post today, namely whether it is possible for me to retire now.

No, I don’t think so, not if I continue still receiving work from my old and also some new clients. Whether I need the money or not is not really the issue here, at least not the main one.

I will not be able to retire any time soon. The curse of a translator is not being able to retire. Not necessarily because you can’t …. but because your brain will not let you.

Last month I bought a gadget that I needed for something. Like all gadgets these days, it was made in China and because I now live in Central Europe, it came with assembly instructions in quite a few languages.

I did not really need the instructions, it was a simple tool and the assembly was self-explanatory enough, but professional curiosity overcame me as I started comparing the quality of the translations.

I keep doing things like that, even though I am officially retired and even though it is a waste of time. You can take a translator out of translation, but you can’t take the translation out of the translator.

The English was fine, the German was fine, but then when I took a look at the Czech, I could not believe my eyes. The “Czech translation” was not in a language spoken anywhere on this planet, or in this galaxy, or any other galaxy in this universe or any other universe. It was a few hundred units representing words, but the only thing in these assembly instructions that made any sense were a few English words, surrounded by a forest of nonsensical garbage composed of vowels and consonants.

What probably happened was that a translation agency, perhaps in China, perhaps in Moldova, perhaps in India, decided to have the instructions translated into major, important languages by actual human translators with a pulse, but “small” languages like Czech, Polish or Hungarian were simply run by a machine translation program …. and that was it. To save money, no bilingual human with an actual brain was even used to “check the translation”, so that nobody noticed that a mathematical formula used by the machine translation program somehow ran amok and created a non-existing language.

After all, Czechs, Poles, Hungarians, we are talking what, ??? …. 45 million people at the most, right? Who cares about them. Let them learn English, or German, or freakin’ Chinese if they want a real translation.

This is the state the art of  the art typical of so-called translation industry nowadays, where so-called “language tools” are venerated as holy cows because they result in extreme efficiency combined with very low cost when humans are no longer needed for the translation.

But it’s not just relatively unimportant instruction manuals that are now translated with new techniques based on super-duper artificial intelligence and technology that truly deserves the moniker “destructive”, so popular these days.

Although I don’t know the dude, I received the email below from him three times so far, twice as a regular email, and once as a request for price quote that came through the price quote link on my website:

 

“Hello Team,

This is with regards to a Patent Translation Crosscheck / Editing service that we have received from one of our existing client. This is a huge client with high volume of Patent translation Crosscheck / Editing requirement. They would be providing us a constant source of business on a monthly basis.   

The language pair requirement for these patents are Japanese to English. These patents would be translated by the client and sent across. I have attached a sample translated document that was sent by the client as a reference. We would request you to go through the file and comment on the overall quality of the translation. Based on your quality analysis of the file, kindly let us know which service is most appropriate i.e. translation check + English editing or Only English Editing is sufficient.

Hope to hear from you within at the earliest, as we have to get back to the client within 24 hours.”

 

Of course I ignore similar requests, which I have been receiving from all kinds of places lately.

Based on the address on its website, the agency is based in UK, but when I Googled the unusual name of the person who sent me the thing, I saw that he was really based in India. That is not unusual these days, many translation agencies with an address in a Western country, and UK in particular, are in fact based somewhere else.

So what would be my job, actually, if I accepted this mission from this translation agency, if the translation was really bad, or better yet, if it was a result of another algorithm run amok, a likely occurrence given how efficient the so-called translation industry is these days?

How would one fix something like that? “These patents would be translated by the client and sent across.” What the hell is that supposed to mean? The whole concept is preposterous. I suppose my role would be to “validate” these “translations by the client” so that they could be used in the court of law as real translations? And the client would of course decide what terms would be used in them and what exactly the translation would say, for example in patent litigation.

That would work perfectly, wouldn’t it? Except that it would be fraud.

But it’s not just the language tools celebrated by the “translation industry” that is rapidly changing our world, and not for better. The entire world in which we live now is one big creepy, sleazy town built for efficiency at all cost.

I read in a newspaper that a new work by Antonín Dvořák was recently discovered. Unfortunately, it was not finished, in fact, it was barely begun, just a short musical theme jotted on a few pieces of paper that were ultimately thrown away by Dvořák, probably when he realized that the thing is so bad that it cannot be saved.

But since a “newly found musical work” of  Antonín Dvořák is highly marketable and has an important monetary value, somebody decided to resurrect it and have the thing finished “based on the entirety of Dvořák’s work” by using artificial intelligence, the article said. This somebody stands to make a lot of money if this creepy scheme works, and Antonín Dvořák cannot defend himself because he is safely dead.

Welcome to the creepy, sleazy town of modern world, where nothing is what it seems and where everything will in a few years be infected by Artificial Intelligence to a degree that will render this world virtually unrecognizable.

 

Posted by: patenttranslator | April 13, 2019

A Degree in Languages Can Be Very Valuable

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

― Mae West

First of all, I want to mark myself safe after watching almost all episodes of four seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix. Yesterday I tried to watch for a change a movie about the end of the world due to flesh eating creatures who react to sound and then attack humans, but after about 15 minutes I could not stand it anymore and went back to what’s still left for me of Breaking Bad.

The series is almost as addictive as Walter White’s, the good/evil protagonist’s of the Netflix series, blue and white meth.

But that is not what I want to be writing about today. Today I would like to share with the readers of my silly blog my deep thoughts on the subject in the title of my post.

Many translators are constantly bombarded by comments from people who are telling them that they made a big mistake by spending decades of their life studying languages to graduate with a degree in a foreign language. Imbecilic comments of this kind often appear in smug comments of know-nothing morons analyzing problems with current education in newspapers, on Youtube, and we might even hear this received wisdom after we reveal our occupation to someone asking us the nosiest question of them all: “So what is it that you do for a living”?

Especially now that machine translation, which is often confused by civilians with actual translation, is available for free on computers and smartphones, people who don’t know much about languages, and often not much about anything else either, are convinced that the study of languages is a waste of time because good money can be made only by those who have a degree in one of the STEM fields (which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

And since it is unavoidable that all translators will soon be replaced by computers and software, or so the received wisdom goes, what is the utility of non-STEM education in the marketplace of the modern, high-tech world that is full of destructive technologies, right?

Well, what do I know, maybe there is a point to this kind of reasoning. But although I have been hearing for about the last 40 years from all kinds of people that my choice of what I wanted to do with my life was not very practical because technology would soon make professions like mine redundant, it is clear to me that whether translators will become obsolete or not would among other things depend on how one would defined the term “all” and the term “soon”.

I don’t have a crystal ball revealing to me what is going to happen in the future job market. But I do have some limited experience as somebody who many years ago received a theoretically useless degree in a non-STEM field, in particular in Japanese studies, which on the surface of it is as far from Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics as one can get.

Even back in the last century, many people thought that the education in the field that I had chosen to pursue all those years ago would not turn out to be very practical and conducive to earning a decent living.

But these false prophets were wrong, as time would prove in due course.

After graduating with a degree in Japanese and a minor in in English in 1980, the imperative, non-compromising arm of wanderlust pushed me a few years later away from the Old World into the open arms of the New World, so that in 1982 I found myself as a new immigrant walking the streets of San Francisco.

Just like today, there were homeless people sleeping in the streets of the fair city already then, only not as many as today because the cost of housing was a fraction of what it is now.

My mission, which I could not afford not to accept, was to make sure that I was not going to join their ranks, something that could have easily happened given that I had no money and did not know a single person on the entire American continent (counting also Canada and Central and Southern America.)

But since there were hordes of Japanese tourists wandering with their authoritative Japanese guidebooks in the early eighties around San Francisco, ready to spend their hard-earned money but unable to communicate with anyone to convey the gist of the adventure that they were eager to experience, it took me less than a month to find a new job in San Francisco thanks to the fact that I could speak English and Japanese, and French, and German, …. and a few other languages that did not really count for too much back then. Despite my ignorance of the City, these four languages combined gave me my first job with the San Francisco Convention & Visitors, although I knew virtually nothing about the City in which I had spent only a few weeks.

Helping to send American and international clientele to numerous tourist traps in and around San Francisco was an enjoyable and interesting job, so much so that I lasted on that job for my first three years in America. After the first year or so I became a virtual, multilingual authority on what to do and where to go in San Francisco and the Bay Area, thanks mostly to my interest and education in foreign languages.

A good education in a STEM subject would probably do the same trick for me … eventually, but that was not were my interest was and still is.

After three years of dispensing advice to tourists, my interest in languages and overall linguistic background led me to meet and eventually marry a Japanese woman who as so happened did not want to go back to Japan after her student visa expired. Ours was not a perfect marriage, but what marriage is? It did last 34 years, and it gave us two beautiful boys, who now are two adult American taxpayers. All roads do not lead to Rome as an old European proverb has it – it is written in the stars that some lead to San Francisco, whether you are coming from Prague or from Tokyo.

After my first three years in San Francisco, I spent a year living with my in-laws in Tokyo. Again, I was able to find a job thanks to my linguistic education within less than a month there, and I started working in downtown as a translator for a somewhat shady import-export company specializing in gray markets.

That was fun too! And I learned a lot from that job as well.

But when my new wife finally got her immigrant visa for United States, after a year we both had enough of Japan and returned to the city where we met – now a favorite question used by banks and credit card companies, in addition to your mother’s maiden name, to establish the identity of a person who has lost the password.

It took me another year after my return to San Francisco before I figured out that the best way to put my education and my skills to good use was to start my own translation business, which I did in 1987 and which is still active, even though I am officially retired by now. But being retired for me at this point only means that I don’t have to work because unlike in the past, I don’t really need to make money … it does not mean that I will not work if the subject is interesting and the money is good!

So there you have my life in a nutshell, and this blog shall remain a living testimony to what one can do with an education that puts an emphasis on foreign languages, namely experience all kind of interesting things and places and have have a lot of fun doing so.

It’s not that I don’t value education in a STEM subject, especially since for more than three decades I have been translating mostly patents and articles from scientific and medical journals. But an education in a subject that may eventually turn out to be lucrative, but at the same time does not really interest you too much, is probably a recipe for a boring, unfulfilled and unhappy life.

And as Mae West, who is described on Wikipedia as an American actress, singer, playwright, screenwriter, comedian, and sex symbol (1893 – 1980), whose entertainment career spanned seven decades, and was known for her lighthearted bawdy double entendres and breezy sexual independence, said a long time ago, it’s important to have fun, because you get to live only once, life is short and then you die.

One of the problems that I had to solve before and after I moved from United States where I had been living since 1981 until the Fall of 2018, with the exception of a year that I spent living and working in Japan in mid eighties, was how to make sure that I would have easy and safe access to my savings in US banks and to my US Social Security income after I move to Czech Republic.

There were of course also many other problems that I had to deal with, such as deciding to which city I was going to move, how to find an apartment and how to rent it over the internet, and little details like that. One thing that all of these problems have in common is that they can be solved only if you have some money and if you can access your funds without paying an arm and a leg for this access.

You will generally have to pay an arm and a leg, and abdomen too, if you accept the advice of your friendly bank employee in any country because the bank will try to capitalize on the fact that you are going to need it more than you used to.

Any bank in any country will of course try to screw you as much as possible. I don’t think this is even debatable.

So the first thing I did was that I visited Czech Republic about six months prior to my planned departure from United States to open a Czech checking account there with several thousand dollars that I brought with me in cash, or as much money as I thought I would need for the first few months or so for my life in another country. The Czech bank gave me a lousy conversion rate, but I was happy that I was able to open a Czech account, even though I did that with an American passport.

Having done that, I then returned to United State because I still had a few details to iron out there, such as talking my wife into signing the divorce papers.

That actually went pretty well. After I agreed to give her most of the money to be received from the equity in our house, she was suddenly quite eager to file and sign the divorce papers. I’ve been paying the mortgage, taxes, insurance, home owners association payments, utilities and all the other good stuff that comes with having a house (I’m sure I’m still forgetting something here) for twenty five years all by myself.

But in the end, she got most of the money as a part of the divorce decision, although she herself never paid a dime for the house, since as a “homemaker” she had no income. Who needs an income when you have a husband, right?

But, hey, after 34 years of servitude, it’s in my opinion a small price to pay for freedom! To quote Martin Luther King, ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I am free at last!’

Incidentally, I will never forget the day at the Norfolk Courthouse when we finally did it and got divorced.

While we were waiting for about two hours in the hallway in front of the court rooms along with about a dozen people who were anxiously awaiting the same thing, the atmosphere in front of the courtroom was dense and depressing and several women were crying.

The people still looked kind of scared and lost in gloomy thoughts inside the elevator when we were going down to the street after we got our divorce papers. But then one freshly divorced black lady suddenly started cracking funny jokes and all of us inside the elevator erupted in laughter that lasted until we finally escaped from the depressing courthouse atmosphere into the sunlight of the free world again.

But let’s get back to the main issue of my blog post today. I tried to figure out different ways to access the money in my US checking account by moving it regularly to a checking account in Czech Republic, but I soon realized that all of the possible approaches were in the long run quite expensive.

Because both banks may charge you quite a bit for each transaction, internet banking, which means sending money from one of your checking accounts in one country through your smart phone or computer to another checking account in another country, makes sense only if you do it only once a while and for relatively large amounts. I could also use PayPal for the same purpose, but PayPal is again quite expensive.

The US Social Security administration will send your monthly pension payments to you free of charge just about anywhere in the world, with the exception of some countries such as North Korea or Cuba, either in dollars or in the currency of the country where you live, depending on what you prefer. But if you select dollars, the bank in the receiving country will charge you a certain percentage depending on the bank, at least 1 percent of the amount being sent, for the privilege of receiving the money to your account. If you do it every month for as long as you live, it will be a lot of dollars that you will shell out to the bank in your new country … for having your money sent automatically to the bank, which is to say for nothing.

If you select to have the money sent to you in the currency of the country where you live, the bank will try to screw you big time on the exchange rate. For example, the exchange rate published on internet by Reuters today is about 22.6 Czech crowns per 1 US dollar. But if you have your pension payments sent to your bank Czech Republic, the bank will convert dollars to crowns at about 20 crowns per dollars, or even less, depending on the bank.

I assume banks in other countries play the same tricks with conversion rates in other countries as well.

A really clever currency conversion trick the banks play, at least the banks in Czech Republic do, goes like this. When you use a foreign ATM card here, you will get a message in English and in Czech asking you whether you want to use the bank’s conversion rate, or whether you want to refuse the conversion rate offered by the bank. The Czech bank’s conversion rate will be displayed and it will again be significantly lower than the median rate shown on internet sites, for example instead of 22.6 crowns, it will be about 20 crowns to a dollar, while the other rate that you can also select will not be shown.

Most people, especially tourists, will select 20 crowns to minimize the risk that they will end up getting a lower rate than 20 crowns to a dollar, even if they know that it is a pretty lousy rate. I too have done it several times, thinking that I will minimize the risk in this manner. What if the unknown rate is even lousier? But when I selected the unknown rate, I discovered that this unknown, secret rate is actually much better, namely almost as high as the median exchange rate that is displayed on the sites on the internet.

Now, my bank in US or another country is charging me a dollar as a fee for using a non-network ATM, as it would if I was using a non-network ATM in United States, and the bank in another country will also add a small fee for the same reason, on top of the withdrawal amount. But these fees are relatively small. For example, if I withdraw 5,000 crowns, the highest amount that I can get here from an ATM, I would receive 5,000 crowns for withdrawing 222 dollars from my account in America, and I would be charged $1.50 by the two banks for using a non-network ATM.

If all you need is some walk-around money, this is by far the cheapest way to get some cash by accessing your money in a foreign bank, and you can do it at the same relatively low cost probably through any ATM, especially if you select the highest amount available.

If you need more than that, for example for a major purchase such as when you need to buy new furniture, you can again use your US ATM card in just about any store abroad.

US bank cards are generally rejected by Czech stores when you try to use them through internet abroad, at least I have not been able to do it here. But the cards will work if I use them in person in a store or in a restaurant. I guess it is much less risky for the banks if the card is used in person, when compared to the risk of a card being used in a foreign country through internet.

So this is how I do it now to minimize the cost of having access to my own money deposited in another country … and it took me only about five months to figure it out.

Occam’s razor, the principle defined in the 14th century by the medieval philosopher William of Ockham, which states that when several solutions are possible, the simplest solution among them is usually the best one, holds true also in the 21st century when it comes to accessing your own money through banks when you travel or live abroad.

Posted by: patenttranslator | March 7, 2019

A Few Ideas for Retirement Strategies for Independent Translators

About 25 years ago when I was in my early forties, I used to like to discuss all kinds of things with interesting people from different countries in a discussion group on Compuserve called FLEFO (Foreign Language & Education Forum). This was long before Facebook’s arrival on the scene, and it was in fact very similar to what Facebook is now, without the cute animal videos and dozens of profile photos, but with plenty of heated exchanges of opinion back when internet could be accessed only very slowly through a thin telephone line and most people used it only for email.

One topic that translators living in different countries discussed already back then was the possibility or impossibility for freelance translators, who were even then in exactly the same position as independent contractors are now, to retire in the same way as employees.

Two or three decades ago, most employees still had an employer-defined pension plan and therefore knew more or less exactly with what kind of income they would be able to retire. But defined pensions were later converted in the United States to something called 401K plans, and most of the money from most of these private pension plans would later be gambled away, i.e. stolen by the Wall Street. The result is that while US government pensions still exist, relatively few private employers now offer a defined pension plan. So most employees are now left up the creek without a paddle as the saying goes when it comes to retirement.

Typically, people in their twenties, thirties and even forties don’t worry too much about how will they be able to make the ends meet in retirement because they have so many much more pressing things to worry about. They start worrying about their income in retirement only when they are already in their fifties or sixties, at which point may be too late for them to come up with a good strategy.

I remember that when I once said back then on FLEFO that I did not expect Social Security to be there for me when I’m old, an older guy told me that I should not believe rumors about the impending collapse of Social Security because it is a solid program that will be there for me in 20 or 30 years when I’m going to need it, unless corrupt politicians give it away to Wall Street.

Fortunately, he was right and the rumors and propaganda spread by Wall Street, which would love to sink its claws into Social Security and start gambling with what is to the banksters a very nice piece of change that they are not profiting from at all, were wrong.

So far, at least, the money has not been gambled away yet.

Social Security, which was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935 in the United States, and similar programs for retirees in other countries work on a similar but not identical principle. If you pay your Social Security taxes, once you reach your retirement age (if you live that long), you will receive a certain fixed monthly amount from the Social Security fund for as long as you live, an amount that will keep increasing a little bit each year depending on inflation.

In my lifetime I have lived, worked and paid taxes as a foolhardy Bohemian traveler & adventurer in four countries: Czechoslovakia (that’s what the country was called before the Czech and Slovak politicians split into two countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia, without bothering to ask the people what they thought about it), Germany (while it was still West Germany), Japan and the United States. But because I did not work and paid taxes long enough in Germany or Japan to accumulate enough so-called work units to claim pension payments from these countries, I only applied for old age retirement payments from two countries: Czech Republic and United States.

The Czechs gave me a small old age pension for 10.8 years of working, serving in the army and paying my taxes there as of 2015, while the United States, where I lived and worked for most of my working life, which is to say for 37 years, afforded to me a much larger old age pension as of last year.     

Although the Czech pension is very small, about a third of an average pension and Czech pensions are quite small, the fact is that I worked there for barely 2 years and the remaining years which helped me to qualify for almost 11 years on the Czech pension were the years I spent studying at my high school and university and serving in the army.  

But there are also other, important advantages to having a Czech pension. For one thing, the Czech state pays the monthly health insurance premiums for all retirees who receive a Czech pension, no matter how big or small it may be. This does not exist for example in the United States where health insurance payments, co-payments and deductibles for various medical procedures and medications typically take a pretty big bite out of a retirement pension, even for retirees who are on Medicare, the popular US health insurance program for seniors.

But still, there is a whole lot of things that Medicare simply does not pay for, including eye and dental care, presumable because seniors have excellent eyes and teeth and thus do not need medical coverage for that kind of thing.

Medicare is also useless for seniors who move abroad as it works only in the United States.

Incidentally, about two years when I needed a new pair of glasses, the cost of the glasses including the eye exam and the glasses was almost a thousand dollars, double of what it used to cost me a few years ago, and Medicare paid a whopping 34 dollars for it.  

Another recent advantage of the Czech Social Security system is that as a senior, I pay only about 40 cents (in US dollars) for a yearly coupon for public transport in the fair city of České Budějovice where I now live, and seniors also get 75% off the fare on throughout buses and trains in Czech Republic and Slovakia.

So, all things considered, the small Czech pension is nothing to sneeze at and I am very glad that I did have enough work units to qualify for it. 

Because I have spent most of my working life and paid my taxes for many years in the United States, the US Social Security pension is in my case fairly generous. And so it should be given that my income was not bad at all and I was paying diligently my Social Security taxes, which were often higher in my case than my income taxes in America.

But now I am able to benefit from all those taxes I paid into US Social Security because I am receiving close to the top level of the retirement income, since the US Social Security retirement payments are based on how much people paid into the system over the years and the cut-off for the top level of retirement income is much higher than for example in Czech Republic.

But not only that: my ex-wife is also benefiting from all the taxes that I paid over the years into the Social Security system in the United States because in addition to what I receive from the US Social Security system, she is also receiving a half of my pension, not from me as the case might be in other countries, but independently of my income from the US Social Security system. It makes perfect sense to me that although we are divorced, together we are now receiving an amount corresponding to 1.5 pensions based only on my Social Security taxes: we both spent two decades of our lives taking care of two future taxpayers; she deserves to be compensated in some manner for that as well.

When I mention this little known fact to Czech women of retirement age who often receive a really tiny pension if they stayed many years at home with children, they look at me with unbelieving eyes and always say the same thing in exasperation:”We have nothing like that here!”  

I wanted my wife to stay home when our children were small in the eighties and the nineties, although we started with an agreement that once they were about 15, she would go back to work to help me pay the bills. But she liked puttering around in the garden and cleaning the house, doing the laundry and fattening me up so much that she never did go back to work since her last job as chef at a restaurant in San Francisco featuring Japanese-Italian “fusion cuisine” ….. in 1989. I still have a yellowed clipping of a review of her then-trendy restaurant written in the eighties by a feared San Francisco restaurant column writer (in which her last name is of course misspelled).

Fortunately, thanks to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the law that he signed in 1934, she too has her own retirement income now, even though a relatively small one.

Unlike people that I like to call “monolinguals”, translators do have some specific advantages when it comes to options for retirement. By definition we speak more than one language and most of us have lived in several countries and are familiar with other cultures. We actually like learning about other cultures and new languages.

I guess one could say we are weird that way.

It’s best to realize that even though we may have a thriving business and make good money at the moment if we are working our butts off while we are still young, all of that is likely to come to an end at some point and we will need to have a strategy for retirement when the time comes.

If we live in a country with a high cost of living, one option for retirement that we have is moving to a country that has the kind of weather that is compatible with our idea of what good weather should be like, a culture, food and a language that we enjoy, and last but not least, a place where our dollars, pounds, Euros or whether other currency we may be getting in our pension payment can be stretched a little bit further.

Millions of American baby boomers have done so or are planning to do so in the near future. So before we decide to join them or reject the idea if it is not suitable for our personal circumstances, it makes sense to take a look at the pros and cons of such a strategy that will hopefully result in a decent and interesting life in retirement.

It is my hope that my post today will be somewhat useful to some people exactly for that purpose.  

Posted by: patenttranslator | March 3, 2019

Step Out of Your Comfort Zone and Discover Multiple Income Streams

In order to eat, you have to be hungry. In order to learn, you have to be ignorant. Ignorance is a condition of learning. Pain is a condition of health. Passion is a condition of thought. Death is a condition of life.”

― Robert Anton Wilson, Leviathan

About 20 years ago, a client who had been sending me basically only projects that I could do myself for about a couple of years, namely Japanese and German patents to be translated to English, did something that upset me a great deal.

He sent me two short sets of patent claims in English to give him an estimate for how much it would cost to translate them into French and German. I remember that I was about to tell him politely that although I translate patents from several languages, I only translate into English. That is my strength and my specialty and that is what I should be doing, I thought to myself. I don’t want to unnecessarily complicate my life too much.

At that time I had so much work translating mostly Japanese patents to English that I figured, oh, what the hell, even if this law firm drops me, it’s no big deal, I have plenty of work from other sources, and I don’t really need the hassle of having to find translators who can do work that I can’t do by myself, organize the work, proofread the translations and pay the translators, usually long before I myself get paid. But then, as I was driving to a bookstore to stock up on new thrillers … (but only if the books were on sale), I kept wondering whether this would be the best decision to be made.

Fortunately, in the end I decided that this was a wrong, overconfident and arrogant decision to make and started looking for translators who could do the job that I was not able to do by myself. Because this particular patent law firm really needed somebody who could not only translate patents from Japanese and several other languages into English, but who could also understand and oversee translation of patents into German, French, Japanese and Chinese and because such a person is not exactly easy to find, it is still sending me translations, mostly patents and correspondence from patent offices in various countries, as well as translations from English an other languages as it has been doing into for the last 20 years.

In fact, I just gave them a cost estimate for two sets of patent claim translations into German and French a few days ago and I am now just waiting for their client to give us the go-ahead for this project. I will probably get the job next week. 

How much money and work would I have lost had I told this particular customer 20 years ago that I can translate only into English? It would have been a lot of work and money had I refused to step out of my comfort zone all those years ago, that’s for sure, good, interesting work and good money for me and the translators who work with me that would probably gone to a large translation agency in the fabulous “translation industry”, where the project would probably be handled by a project manager who does not know much, if anything, about patents, let alone understands patents in foreign languages.

Many translators tend to take a very narrow view of what they should and should not be doing and that is how they may overlook potential avenues for generating additional, multiple streams of income. To be clear, I am not saying that we should not specialize and that we should blindly accept anything that has something to do with translation.

But I am saying that so many translators overspecialize and insist on a very narrow definition of the kind of work they will accept, which tends to make them underemployed.

My additional streams of income have been coming for the last two decades mostly from working as a tiny, specialized translation agency, but different people can start adding different specializations to their original bag of tools, such as format conversions and handling of graphics, or creating websites in other languages, consulting, etc. The problem is that translators who work only or mostly for translation agencies (aka “LSPs”) are usually asked by these “LSPs” to do all kinds of additional work, for instance to throw in a lot of hours on format conversions and editing, completely for free in order to be “assigned” a translation job.

Those of us who work for direct clients are able to add a reasonable surcharge to our bill for additional, time-consuming work (provided that the client agrees with this ahead of time), or charge a higher per-word rate for the translation.

However, that is not the case when we work for the “translation industry”. Translators who are in the clutches of the “translation industry” are often also forced by the translation agency to work in a “proprietary environment” by using a special CAT software that will steal the word count from the translators (but not from the agency), as well as wait weeks before being allowed to submit an invoice. This is a direct, illegal assault on the autonomy of translators as independent service providers, designed to minimize their remuneration and create a long delay before a payment to obedient indentured servants is finally made.

But if we are able to avoid the predatory, mass-production “translation industry” model, we can generate multiple streams of our income by providing additional services that are closely related to our specialty, which may have been originally defined overly narrowly. In a way, it is as if we discovered for ourselves not only additional streams of income, but also additional streams of consciousness flowing through a universe that is not nearly as narrow and compressed as we thought.  

Although originally we may have been ignorant about what else we have to offer to our clients, our ignorance was only a first step, or a necessary precondition of learning, and it goes away with time as long as we are not afraid to keep learning.

Posted by: patenttranslator | February 24, 2019

The Reason Why My Pokey Old Website Still Works

 

I keep a list of new customers who found my poky old website in a given year in a file called, predictably enough, “New Customers from Internet 2005 ~ 2019″. Thanks to my domain name expertly chosen twenty years ago and the fact that the website has been online already for two decades, and also because it has a link to my blog in which I have been writing about translation issues for such a long time, mostly about issues relating to patent translation, if you put certain key words into a search engine, my website or/and my blog will come up as a resource for translating patents from Japanese, French, or German to English usually on the first page, sometime on top of page 1 in organic results.

I have never paid for online advertising, which can be very expensive, because I get enough new business from what is called organic search engine results.

For example, 25 new customers found my website thanks to its high ranking in organic results in 2005 (this was the first year when I started tracking new customers in this manner. I had no blog yet, I started writing it in 2010), 20 new customers found my website in 2006, and 10 new customers found me in 2013. Every year, the revenue from these customers represented about 40 to 60% of my income. I probably could not have survived all those years without my not-so-secret weapons – my website and my blog.

The number of new customers from Internet was drastically reduced in the last five years or so, because the competition for both organic listings and paid advertising has become brutal in the last decade or so. But it’s not about how many new customers, mostly patent law firms, will find me in a given year; what is even more important is how much work they will end up sending me.

For example, I see from my list that I gained only 9 customers in this manner in 2016, but one of them sent me work corresponding to about 40% of my income in that year, and then they swamped me with work the next year when they sent me work representing about 80% of my income the next year.

A new patent law firm with dozens of patent lawyers found out about my patent translation services also this month, and so far I finished two translation projects for them: one was an old Japanese patent and the most recent one that I finished only yesterday was a fairly long scientific article, which I translated from Japanese to English.

Why do large patent law firms, which must have been sending work to other translation suppliers for many years, presumably mostly to large translation agencies because unlike small translation agencies or individual translators such as myself, large translation agencies are easy to find in paid listings on the internet, decide instead to use the services of a very small operation such as mine?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but here is what I think.

I think that the decision is in a way similar to what happens when a consumer decides to shop for new produce at a local farmers market instead of buying gorgeous red tomatoes, strawberries and apples shipped from Brazil, Chile, or Argentina to a local store that is a part of a huge supermarket chain.    

The problem with the fruits and vegetables is that although they look oh-so-beautiful, they may be carcinogenic because modern large-scale corporate agricultural methods use too many chemicals to grow the produce. What may be even more important is that good-looking veggies and fruits these huge corporations are selling us, although they look very appetizing, are often almost completely tasteless.

So, many customers will in the end decide to go “bio” and buy products untouched by chemicals and genetic engineering at a local farmers market (which, unfortunately in some cases may again feature fruits and vegetables that have been shipped for thousands and thousands of miles, falsely advertised as produce grown by local farmers).

One could say that the methods that large translation agencies, or mass-producers of translations rely on to minimize their operating expenses and maximize their profits are just as dangerous and toxic to our environment, which is to say to what translation is, or used to be, as they are similar to or have been inspired by the methods used by large producers of agricultural products.

Just like the fruits and vegetables that we buy at a local supermarket may have been shipped thousands of miles from a different continent because the supermarket chain will pay half cent less per each tomato when it has been bought from abroad rather than from a local farmer who does not believe in combining the latest “breakthrough genetic engineering methods” with tons of chemicals for the best results, the translations produced in mass by large translation agencies may be the result of  machine translation algorithms which cobble together texts that may then be edited by unqualified “post-processing editors” who live in countries where this kind of “processing” can be done on the cheap.

This new method for producing translation in the new “translation industry” is a method that is very cost-effective for large translation agencies. A “minor” problem that must be ignored by customers here is the quality of these translations, which may be full of mistakes, just like a supermarket chain customer may have to ignore the fact that so many fruits and vegetables sold worldwide in supermarkets taste like … rubber.

The very cost effective methods that have been relatively recently adopted by the “translation industry” might work for very simple texts that are very similar to other simple texts that have been already translated by educated, qualified and experienced human translators. The modern machine translations are so deceptively similar to a real translation, which is to say a human translations, because they are cobbled together from reused texts of older human translations.

But these machine translation methods are ill suited for the kind of texts that Mad Patent Translator usually deals with. For example, both the Japanese patent application and the Japanese article published in a technical journal were almost three decades old. Thirty years ago, the legibility of original Japanese texts was not nearly as good as it is now. Very small fonts were generally used to fit as much text on a single page as possible. The page was often divided into two columns with four quadrants of text that also includes equations and formulas, figures and photos. This by itself is a formidable obstacle to the industrial type of processing that is so popular in the “translation industry”.

But the problems with the modern methods used by the “translation industry” are even much more complex when the translations are from a complicated language such as Japanese.

The language that is spoken and written in the Land of the Rising Sun is so complicated that as Francis Xavier, a Portuguese missionary in mid sixteenth century in Japan put it, this language must have been invented by the Devil himself to prevent spread of Christianity in Japan. And if it was invented by the Devil himself for this purpose, one would have to say that the Devil did a bang up job because to this day, there are not too many Christians in Japan.

The best way to avoid mass-produced translations that may be full of mistakes because they were mass-produced by mega translation agencies relying on software and translators who lack proper qualifications and experience in a process that is overseen by cheap, monolingual product managers, is probably finding a better fit in the form of a small, highly specialized supplier of translations who really does specialize in a relatively narrow field, rather than “specializing in all languages and all subjects” the way all large translation agencies think translation can and should be done.

And that may be in fact the main reason why my pokey old website, which has been working so well already for two decades, still draws in valuable new customers, as it did this week.

 

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