Monday, March 30, 2009

A small conversion utility

I've written a small freeware utility for the localization course I'm teaching at DU. I needed some source code for an exercise, and I thought I might as well write a small utility from scratch.

The utility converts from American feet and inches to meters.

There are many much better programs that convert feet, inches and thousands of other measurements, but so far I have not found any that converts feet and inches when they are presented together, for example when you indicate a person's height.

This programs does that (and also converts pounds to kilos).

You can download the program for free from this link (from our company's website).

Please note that, in this beta version, feet and inches should be written as if they were a decimal number (5.9 for 5'9"). If you type in 5'9", the conversion gives an incorrect result. In the future, I plan to allow input in both formats, and also add some other useful features, such as conversion from metric to the US system.

If you find this program useful, or if you have any suggestion, let me know.


I've uploaded a slightly improved version: the new version rounds the height to two decimals and the weight to the nearest kilo. Also, it is now possible to use keyboard shortcuts to press the OK and Cancel buttons.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Babylon Ltd. is looking for translators for their forthcoming online human translation service

Up to now I knew Babylon only as providers of dictionary software. They offer a straightforward application to query several dictionaries and glossaries at the same time, and a utility to build and manage your own glossaries. The standard Babylon subscription includes many "free" glossaries, but for more professionally finished dictionaries they charge extra.

While some of the claims Babylon makes are over the top (for example they offer the English-Italian Oxford Paravia Concise dictionary - a decent dictionary, but far from "[...] the most authoritative and comprehensive Italian-English dictionary" they claim: several more comprehensive and authoritative English-Italian dictionaries are available, some of them even with free online versions), I found their software fairly useful, especially if you need to query several different references at the same time.

Now Babylon wants to enter the online human translation field. I received an e-mail inviting me to apply on line.

Unlike those of many translation companies, the application form takes only a few minutes to complete. However, I noticed three potential issues:
  1. Among the required fields were Gender and Year of Birth,
  2. There is no field to enter your rates, and
  3. While the "Basic Agreement to Terms of Conduct and Terms of Conditions" are short and clear, they include one I would want to negotiate before accepting: "If you have returned an incomplete or low quality work, your payment might be withhold or/and reduced" (sorry, but "low quality work" according to whom, and verified in what manner?)
I asked Ursula Ron about the reason to include the Year of Birth, and she answered it was useful to double check the claims made by the translators about their experience "If someone is born 1980 and tells me he has 15 years of experience, something is definitely wrong". Fair enough, but I still don't understand why they also need "Gender" as a required field.

I'm posting here some of the additional information Ms. Ron sent me, with her permission:

  • What is this all about?
We envision the Online Human Translation Service as a web site that allows customers to place projects to be translated, and translators to pick those jobs that suit into their daily workflow.
  • When will it happen?
A limited test version should be online within three to four weeks and we are aiming to have the official version ready by the end of May.
  • What about the rates?
We are still trying to figure out the most suitable rates that a) will allow qualified translators to get a fair payment, b) will allow us to offer competitive prices and c) will make this enterprise profitable to Babylon.

Since Ursula Ron clearly said they are looking of experienced translators, I urge her to let the translators set their own rates.

I have some misgivings, since this could turn out as yet another site offering cheap translations. Still, the declared interest in experienced professionals is an encouraging sign.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A translation giant in trouble?

According to an article in the Boston Business Journal, Lionbridge will cut 325 positions globally (about 8% of its staff).
Liobridge recorded a $ 114 million loss in 2008.
The CEO's statement appears to be a good example of pure corporatese: "...moving forward as a leaner company while maintaining our focus on innovation and customer quality".
Best of luck to all the Lionbridge staff we know personally.

(Hat tip to Luigi Muzii of il Barbaro for the link)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How not to create dictionary entries

From Sidney I. Landau, "Dictionaries, The Art and Craft of Lexicography":

Avoid circularity. Since the primary purpose of a dictionary is to inform the reader what words mean, anything that absolutely denies the reader the opportunity to find out the meaning of a word he has looked up is the most serious defect a dictionary can have. Mind you, circularity does not just make things difficult - it makes them impossible. No amount of diligence on the part of the reader can penetrate the barrier of circularity.

From the Michaelis, "Moderno Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa":

sm (der regressiva de despachar) 1 Ação de despachar.


(provençal despachar) vtd 1 Pôr despacho em, deferindo ou indeferindo: Despachar uma petição.
I guess the editors of the Michaelis didn't read Landau, then.

Comments on blogs - il barbaro

Most bloggers see their blog as a means to open a discussion with others. Hence the "comments" feature.

Some bloggers, of course, prefer to turn comments off, and present their blog as a platform from which to express their thoughts. That is fine also.

What I don't understand, however, is bloggers who don't disable the comments, but who then don't allow you, for unspecified reasons, to leave a comment about any post.

One such blogger, apparently, is Luigi Muzii, of the interesting Italian blog "il barbaro".

Luigi, I would have liked to leave a few comments about some interesting posts of yours (including one in which you quote me), but when I try to enter comments on any post, I just get this: "Spiacente, non puoi commentare questo post!" ("Sorry, but you cannot lave a comment for this post!")

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Translation tests v. translation samples

Often translators complain about translation tests, and ask why, instead, they couldn't just send out samples of their translations, perhaps one for each language combination or one for each field in which they specialize.

There may various reasons why a translation company may prefer a translation test to a translation sample:

  • Often the purpose of the test is not only to assess the quality of the translation, but also to see how well the translator follows the instructions given with the test. For example, when I worked in the translation department of a major software company, we used tests to assess candidates for staff translator positions. The tests were short portions of longer documents (about 250 words to translate in a 750-word document), with clear instructions about what to translate and what not, what to do in case of doubt and so on. We rejected many candidates because they would not read through the instructions: if I am looking for a technical translator when I know that each project will come with detailed instructions, I want to screen out the translators who skip the instructions and plunge directly in the translation. This screening prevents many serious problems later.

  • A test translation lets the translation company see how each candidate solved specific translation problems, and compare the quality of a translation with the quality of a different translation of the same source text. This is not possible with translation samples.

  • A translation sample lets translators present teir best work. Fine for them, but less useful for the company: a test shows how you tackle the type of work the translation company would send you.

  • The quality-control process adopted by the translation company may require a test. For example, most ISO-certified companies follow elaborate QC procedures throughout the translation process, including the selection of freelancers. If this is so, they are not going to change their process just because a translator has some sample translation.

  • When you have to evaluate many candidates, it is faster when each test translates the same original, than if you have to shift gears every time, and look at a different translation of a different original. A well-designed test represents a considerable investment of time for the translation company or translation department:
    • the time spent selecting the texts to be translated,
    • the time spent designing the test (choosing which parts of the text to translate, perhaps adding translation problems to see how they would be solved by the candidates, writing and reviewing the instructions for the test, sending out the tests),
    • the time devoted to a first screening of all the tests received to see which could be dismissed out of hand, and then
    • the time spent assessing the tests.
    Bear in mind that well-designed test is not assessed by a person only: at the software company I mentioned before, two translators assessed each test, but when the two evaluations differed, a third evaluator also took part.
These are the main reason a translation test may be more useful than sample translations. This, of course, applies only to tests that are well designed and well administered. Tests that are not well planned are a waste of time for all.

Friday, March 06, 2009

On eBay you can find everything

I was reading an article by Ben Yagoda "The inevitable epicene solution" (very interesting piece about the growing prevalence of the singular "they"), when I noticed a really strange eBay ad on that page:

I wonder if they could sell me some adverbs, as well.