Writers like it 3 ways

This is a great talk from SXSW from writers about writing:

15 Slides, Three Writers, Three Ways — One Hour.

Great perspectives that show you how each writer approaches the challenges of writing differently. A lot of this is stuff you may have heard but told before, but this format is truly a compelling way to leran. How do you confront the blank page? Walk away and come back is one way, but I prefer the idea of giving the article a title right away, even if it has nothing to do with the content and won’t make it into the final draft.

Best quote: “You guys sound like you don’t even like writing.”

Google gets more translations to ponder from European Patents

Via Google in Translation Pact for European Patents – ABC News.

Google said Thursday it has reached an agreement with European patent authorities to use its online technology to translate some 50 million patents.

Mountain View, California-based Google will gain access to all the translated patents – more than 1.5 million documents and 50 000 new patents each year – which will help improve its machine translation technology. Moreover, it will also deal with the growing amount of technology-related information in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Russian.

It’s no secret that Google’s ambition for cataloging the world’s information encompasses every language. Through many efforts, including its translator toolkit, Google has been gathering raw data on translations from professional translators. Since teaching a computer grammar and syntax logic has not brought new gains, the best approach seems to be to mimic. That is, if Google’s computers can see enough examples of proper translations done by professional translators, eventually the computer can simply cut and paste phrases and put it all together.

As a patent translator, I wouldn’t be scared by this just yet. Google’s machine translation still has a long way to go before it can truly understand us mere mortals. Take a look at the following machine translation for a shipping product in Apple’s iPhone App Store.

Don't hire Google Translate to do your App Store marketing

For those who don’t read French, it says “Now available in unemployment insurance French!”

<joke>Insert French unemployment joke here</joke>

Pen and paper

How much does it cost to translate a book?

Pen and paper
"It's a handwritten 100,000-word book you say? How long you say? No money for my work right now you say"

I like to answer the phone for my translation business, and that leads to some repetitive question and answers, but also excellent insight into the people who use my services. 99% of clients who call me are great — and grateful — for honest and straightforward answers. I give them a fair price and an accurate time estimate in which I can guarantee delivery on time (often it arrives earlier, but I like to under-promise and over-deliver).

Then, there are the outliers—the calls every translator dreads to receive. For instance:

“Hi, I need my book translated.”

Surprising, at least to me, are the number of calls I receive asking me to translate a book. I would love to begin a book translation, especially if it is an author I love, or a children’s book. Inevitably, however, a few more details emerge:

  1. Shockingly, the caller wrote the book himself or herself.
  2. It’s unfathomably long — at least 100,000 words if not 300,000.
  3. There is no publishing deal in place — for any language.
  4. The total budget is smaller than my monthly utility bill.
  5. The person needs it ASAP — no, wait a sec’ — make that next Monday.

I’m a bit of a writer myself, so I understand the temptation to publish and the lure of the pen (or laptop). For the same reason, I also know how long it takes to come up with, and subsequently type out, 100,000 or more words. It boggles my mind that the calls I’ve received often expect the translation to take less time than it might to simply retype the book, and that, when I make the calculation for budget/time, it comes out to something like $0.85/hour. That’s 1/10 the minimum wage in San Francisco.

“Hi again, I’ll pay you with proceeds from my book sales.”

This followup call is my least favorite. The unrealistic budget and time allotment has failed to hook any translator in the sea. After a brief pause following the crushing reality of time and space required to do work, the author has entered again into a mind distortion field. He (or she, publishingitis affect both genders equally) has reemerged with a, seemingly, brilliant solution: pay with hypothetical future proceeds on the publication of a translation of a book that has never been published and may never be.

At this point, I still try to be polite and graciously decline. That doesn’t work. I’m quoted an outrageously high figure which supposedly corresponds to my potential virtually-guaranteed-not-to-be-missed-for-anything royalty figure in the not-to-distant future. It’s not that the offer isn’t flattering, I say, it’s just that I have so many other obligations.

And then another client calls on the other line—thank you! thank you! thank you!—I regretfully end the call with the budding author and talk to another potential client who restores my faith in all that is true and good.

“Hi, I need to get something notarized.”

“Well, it’s not exactly what I do, but thank you for the call. You really saved me.”


Linkbait, fishing for clicks

5 things I hate about articles with lists of 5 things

Linkbait, fishing for clicks
Call me Linkbait!

We all know the only reason they do it is to entice a reader into an article that otherwise has no substance, to get our hopes up about a topic we love but which they know nothing more about, because it takes no time to write, requires precious little brain power, and can be written while still in your underwear.

Just like this article.

Stop doing it. The Internet thanks you.
(All of us—I counted.)

Did your mother name you “At the time”?


A birth certificate in Hindi
They don't call it a name certificate for a reason.

Most blogs begin with an explanation about why the blogger began his blogging. This one will leave that subject to mystery (or privacy, perhaps). What I prefer to talk about is how difficult it is to come up with a name.

Don’t name your child

Just today I was helping someone translate a birth certificate from Hindi into English. Since Hindi isn’t a language I specialize in, or know even a single word of (is paneer Hindi?), I partner with a trusted translator in India I’ve worked with for the past several years. When he sent it back to me, the baby’s name was written as Tatsamay. That wasn’t the client’s name, and as it turns out, this is simply Hindi for “At the time” — meaning, the baby’s name had not yet been decided at the time of birth.

Imagine that: nine months to think up a name and…nothing. (It could be laziness, but likely it is just the tradition in India to leave the naming of child until later.)

Don’t name your blog

It seems fairly auspicious to begin a blog on the same day with the wise and ancient advice that a name is better left to the future, when you know something about the baby blog being born. After all, if Indian tradition doesn’t know about blogging, I don’t know who does.

So, let’s leave it at that. Language and names are very important, too important even for a blog about language.