Monday, January 30, 2006

Translation bullshit

I was reminded once again today just why I chose not to become a translator.

Skrivanek is a large translation bureau that fairly recently opened an office in Estonia. Back in those days I didn't have a day job, was in college etc., so I registered in their database. Not the first translation bureau I freelanced for, and I am probably in the records of more of them than I remember.

Anyway, on Monday I get a call from them asking if I'd do a translation for them, from Estonian into Russian. I take a look at the text - user manuals for Chinese scooters, technical stuff, stuff I know - and agree. We set a rate, per word, which is slightly unusual: written translation tends to be charged at 1800 characters per unit, which is equivalent to an A4 page of single-spaced text in Times New Roman, size 12.

The deadline is two weeks, but I'm done with the job by Saturday. The final volume is 17 740 words, which comes out to a decent little bit of extra cash to spend on fixing up my new car.

Today, I get a letter from them saying they'll only pay me for 14 513 words, which is what some analysis software they're using tells them should be the amount.

I get in touch with a friend who is a professional translator, works fulltime at a bureau, and ask if it's legit. She tells me it's not a practice she'd ever encountered, outside of some specific work using translation software. I fire off an angry email to Skrivanek saying they'd better fucking pay me for the work I actually did. Then I go and check the volume of the original text. 15 387 words.

Now, discounting the fact that common sense suggests one gets paid on the work done, exactly what sort of analysis would come up with the result that the volume of text shrinks by 5.7% as a result of being translated from Estonian, a language with a lot of Germanic influence, into Russian, where (for example) composite words are very rarely used?

The woman from Skrivanek, who said she was a project manager, tried to convince me over the phone that it's accepted practice to use the analysis software, as it's the only way the bureau can predict what the translation will cost and charge the customer accordingly.

Besides the fact that it is singularly not reasonable to expect a Russian translation to be shorter than the Estonian original, what exactly is the purpose of a translation bureau? In my understanding, a bureau represents translators, and as such one ought to expect its employees and business practices to boast a modicum of competence. If Skrivanek's project manager is incapable of correctly estimating the translator's fee and realizing that a freelance translator will expect to be paid on the job done, not on some inexplicable number generated by a proprietary script (I am not saying Skrivanek attempted to screw me personally, I fully believe that their fulltime translators and more desperate freelancers have accepted this ludicrous way of doing business) - in that case the person on the other end of the phone is not a project manager, but in fact nothing more than a secretary shuffling emails back and forth.

After a fair bit of arguing on the phone, and dropping the names of previous bureaus I worked for (ones that didn't pull bullshit like this), I finally got them to promise to pay me based on the work I actually did for them at the rate they offered. Of course, they said, this means they would not be cooperating with me again. Good riddance.

The tragic thing is that while I have not had this particular trick pulled on me before, I expected something similar. Any freelance translator, in this part of the world at least, must expect to get shafted at every opportunity, and work hard to avoid it. I have a day job, so I can afford to lose the benevolence of translation bureaus; a lot of people out there can't.

This is the first post on AnTyx where I mentioned the real name of Small Country. I have also intentionally used the real name of the translation bureau. The reason for this is that I would like this post to be found by fellow freelance translators looking for impressions on Skrivanek and advice on whether to work with them. So here is my advice: if you get a translation order from Skrivanek - accept it, but be absolutely clear on how much you are getting paid, and on what basis.

There are many reasons why I chose to go into technical writing. Translation bureau bullshit is one of the better ones.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Insult Codepage

The original ?off Ready Reckoner:

1 - The U.S. of A. is not all that she is made out to be
2 - Capitalism when done right is the right thing
3 - Socialism when done right is the right thing
4 - Genetic predisposition exists
5 - Genetic predisposition should not exist
6 - Racism is universal
7 - There are no universal truths
8 - I want love
9 - Oh! Shiny
10 - Freedom is costly
11 - 10 is an oxymoron
12 - Hehe! He said moron!
13 - Exceptions are not rules
14 - Exceptions prove the rule
15 - Exceptions do not return value
16 - Violence is valid
17 - Violence invalidates
18 - Moron!
19 - Fucking Moron!
20. [grinning, ducking, running]
21. And you can't use Google to find that out because...?
22. That's what I get for trying to get some conversation going. Some 19 doing a 23.
23. Thanks for stating the obvious. Moron.
24. This thread has gone south (or, west)
25. Reducing the fundamental arguments to catalogued & readily repeatable will either free us from our past, or doom us all to a life of reciting obscure numbers for eternity.
26. Salad cream
27. Fruit Show.
100011011. If we re-worked the idea into a binary system, we could recite a single number and it would encompass all of the arguments we wanted to make. (In Hex then...FA)
28. I made it to the sidebar!
29. (this insult reserved for future insults)
30. Deadpan. Gales of laughter ensued.
31. I've always thought Joel was full of sound advice, and followed his stuff for years, but this recent article just goes to show he's really lost the plot.
32. I have a PhD.
33. Poo
34. I wish muppet would stop dragging X here
a: psychopaths
b: damsels in distress
c: stupid news links
d: people who post muppet posts who just keep the stupid thing going
(used with supplementary number, e.g. 34c!)
35. muppet is a troll.
36. I feel so left out.
37. Don't feed the trolls.
38. When do you people ever get any work done/don't you have anything better to do than to post here?
39. Drat, X beat me to it. (used with name parameter, e.g. 39/Dennis)
40. Prove it.
41. Disprove it.
42. The Babel Fish argument (logically disproving God's existence)
43. I already said that.
44. That 43 was prime.
45. Anybody want some gmail invites?
46. It's disingenuous to refer to the most primitive, arcade exercises when trying to disprove the value of an ideology, but that's what you get when you chat with people who don't know what they're fucking talking about.
47. What are you, retarded?
48. Sympathy reply.
49. I regularly engage in sex with two women simultaneously.
50. Been there, done that.
51. The problem with the world today is stupidity. I'm not saying there should be a capital punishment for stupidity, but why don't we just take the safety labels off of everything and let the problem solve itself?
52. It doesn't do anything in Opera...
53. Marijuana is not a drug. It is a leaf.
54. Repost dildo!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Chris McKinstry is dead, and I won't be shedding a tear.

It looks to be true; there has been independent verification (such as it is - I will never know for a fact if the person ever existed in the first place) that Chris McKinstry has indeed committed suicide in his home in Chile.

For those who are not familiar with the back story, CMK was an individual with some fairly insane theories, a researcher of AI and a former operator of a big scientific telescope somewhere in the Andes. He was also a semi-regular contributor to the Joel on Software offtopic forum, a.k.a the circle jerk mentioned on the sidebar.

Initially this space was to be occupied by a long-winded and entirely heartless discussion of the mindlessness of this act. Mark Wieczorek said that CMK knowingly made his death an Internet moment, so I felt no remorse or pangs of conscience for criticizing it. I was going to talk how, as an atheist and a person who knows for an absolute fact that there is no soul and no afterlife, I consider suicide to be an act of unimaginable stupidity; how a lot of my own life was spent in deep anguish, how I wished every day that my existance would cease - and yet I never for a second gave realistic consideration to killing myself.

However, any point I would have made is completely moot now; the McKinstry suicide was indeed an Internet moment, and as such it has not escaped the pitfall of any Internet moment: futility.

In knocking himself off on public Netovision, Chris McKinstry has both succeeded and failed. He succeeded in becoming an Internet personality of minor significance, a candidate for a footnote in the history of the medium; this is an achievement I admire regardless of the means. In my philosophy, prominence is quite good, but simple rememberance is much of the way there. McKinstry failed in achieving his goals of becoming a martyr of the new age, inspiring outcry at the cruelty of a world that chewed up and spit out a simple visionary who believed before anyone else that the mind was a seven-dimensional hypersphere and thought a trajectory on it.

It is now Wednesday night, and McKinstry's moment has passed.

It has been outshone by a development of which it was a direct cause. Because Chris McKinstry's last words, a narrative of his final hours, appeared on the JoS?off board, some rather disturbing attention was drawn to it. This was a cause of considerable concern for our landlord, Joel Spolsky, who decided enough was enough and had us evicted.

?off was on thin ice to begin with. It was founded just after the US presidential elections of 2004, as an outlet for all discussions on the matter so that they would not crowd the main JoS forum. It was then driven ever deeper into the bowels of, hidden away from the world in an ice-white corner of cyberspace where nobody could hear you scream. The defining characteristic of ?off was that it was uncensored; it did have moderators who filtered out spam and an occasional outburst of keyboard Tourette's, but no topic was taboo, and no opinion too outrageous. On more than one occasion it generated considerable insight.

Then again, I can see how Joel would not want to be associated with us.

The shattered remnants of the community are regrouping on Ectopia, a backup board prepared some time ago by one of the regulars for just such an occasion. It looks like FCE all over again, and the next few weeks will be critical. However, even now the predominant topic of discussion in this social group, one directly involved in something so tragic as the loss of a human life, is how much Joel sucks for kicking us out and what Simon Lucy needs to do to make Ectopia inhabitable.

Like I said, an Internet moment.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

A minor update

Yes, yes, I know. I haven't posted a damn thing in three weeks. No, unlike Chris McKinstry I do not appear to have offed myself.

Antyx was started at a time of contentment, I described this way back in the start. I had a burning urge to do something with my life besides my nice, yet not world-changing day job. I wanted to create. There seemed to be plenty of topics, plenty of things I was mad about or thought I had an unusual opinion about, so for a long time I held out, writing a new post nearly every day.

At this point I am no longer content. I have goals to strive for, unlikely but feasible, which makes them worth pursuing. This is why I have not had the motivation to produce more Antyx pieces - I am simply doing other stuff with the time and energy.

I will be back though. Soon. But first, I have to translate the owner's manuals for two ATVs and a moped.

PS: I bought a new car. 1987 Accord with the 16V engine from the Prelude. I cannot overemphasize how much driving is better than public transport; I had almost forgotten.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Taxes, savings, and the labour market

Here's a sentiment you'll occasionally see.
In a Nordic Welfare State, you get free healthcare and education and a safety net and so on, but because the taxes are so high, the people there don't have a lot of money to spend themselves.
Now, admittedly, taxes have so far only gone down in Small Country, but this sounds suspicious.

The thing is, taxes are invisible. I know that the government takes ~60% of what I make (plus 18% of what I spend), but the way it's structured, I never see that money to begin with. The difference between the figure in my contract and the figure in my bank account is 23%, but once I sign the paper, I only think in terms of real earnings - the other figure is irrelevant.

Effectively any and all negotiations about salary are based on the actual pocketed earnings. A strong economy can support strong taxes because the end figure is high as well. So you don't have to spend any money on health insurance and college funds for the kids - most people still don't think about how much the government takes, they think about how much they get and how much they spend.

High taxes, if used wisely (and they have to be, otherwise the government won't hold), stimulate the economy. This increases pocketed earnings. Nobody is going to work for less money than they need to have a nice lifestyle, so nice that they will give up eight hours of their day for it. No matter how high the taxes are - a person's pocketed earnings still have to be fairly high.

The system balances out. Needs and ideas of what constitutes a decent living standards are roughly the same in any First World nation. In terms of what people get to take home, adjusted to purchasing power parity, there is no major difference between the US and Sweden. (You'd be surprised at the posh cars you see in Stockholm, for example, even though in absolute figures cars are ridiculously expensive compared to Montana.) Except in a high-tax country, you also have good healthcare, good education and good public transport.

Notes after having discussed this on the Circle Jerk board:

1) Yes, high taxes do stimulate the economy if properly used. The classic example is Norway, using huge profits it's getting from the oil industry (through income tax not least) to fund construction of industries that require massive entry costs but will sustain the economy should the oil run out. A better one perhaps is that of Small Country itself, where there is no corporate tax on reinvested profit. Foreign companies move their development work here because a subsidiary does not have non-reinvested profit (it sells the product to the parent company for a price equal to operating costs plus what it needs to expand), and local companies prefer to reinvest most of their profits and just have the owners set themselves high salaries. The budget gets its money from personal and value-added tax. Everyone is happy.

2) Yes, 60% tax. Sounds enormous, doesn't it? Well, you can get income tax back on tons of things - student loan and mortgage interest for example, and there's a minimal figure (around 2/3 of the minimum wage) that is income tax free. Because we have a very efficient computerized system in place, taxes are no hassle at all - the returns are filled out online in ten minutes, and returns are in your bank account within days. Essentially you can think of tax as finance payments. The bank takes of money out of your account automatically every month for car payments, mortgage payments, etc. Taxes are just finance payments on doctors treating you, professors teaching you and your kids so they can get good jobs, and some hapless folks piping raw sewage out of your apartment.

3) No, it's not all going on unemployment benefits. I've said before that Small Country is very laissez-faire; our welfare system is quite modest. You can't really live off of benefits. Every single American to whom I've described our setup has admired it - particularly the republicans.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Top 30 Flasher T Facts

I'm a rather unusual person, I think, in that I am very hard to offend. I am easy to annoy, certainly - but I generally do not take personal offense to anything. In fact personal attacks are, in my opinion, extremely flattering: when someone cares that much, it is a measure of success to be cherished. When they care enough to customize the attack to the person, actually make an effort - it is even better.

So allow me to submit for your pleasure the New Year's present given to me by the curmudgeons of ?off. Some of these are quite positive in themselves - #3 is certainly true, although #9 isn't. #19 opens up an interesting philosophic discussion which I may address on the pages of AnTyx in the future. #29 I will leave to the imagination of the reader.

Inspired by the famous Top 30 Chuck Norris Facts, I give you:

Top 30 Flasher T Facts

1. Once, he was driving a car, and the steering wheel popped off. He tried to hit the brakes, but then the brake pedal broke off. Then all the doors flew off the car, and the tires fell off. Before he knew it, he was skidding down the highway at 120kph and crashed into a Volvo. A beautiful, mint 1970 lime green Volvo. He owns that Volvo now.

2. He is the sole cause of the downfall of the Soviet Regime. It's part of his family curse, any country he enters soon falls prey to revolution and mass hysteria.The fact that he looks like Justin Timberlake, dances like Paula Abdul, and sings like Pavarotti may have something to do with it.

3. He could solve the social ills of the world. He chooses not to.

4. Runs a coffee shop in East Small Country. Their top selling brew goes by the name of "Thunderpussy." So does their most popular waitress.

5. Learnt how to praise himself so others would praise him too, by starting to address himself in third person.

6. Is the inspiriational real-life person behind all of John Travolta's movies including Greece and Saturday Night Fever.

7. Knight Rider, a shadowy flight into the dangerous world of a man who does not exist. Flasher T, a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless in a world of criminals who operate above the law.

8. Is awaiting the cinematic release of the DaVinci Code where it will be revealed that he is, indeed, Jesus' great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandson.

9. The "T" stands for Tiberius.

10. Knows the answer to the age old question:
What you gon’ do with all that junk?
All that junk inside your trunk?

11. Flasher T started gang bangin' his testicles. The audiences called him beloved cocksucka T.

12. Holds the patent to the whole Copilot idea and is just waiting.... waiting....

13. Has a collection of gold jewelry that the prince of Whales would be jealous of, and is known by the kids in his neighborhood as "Mister."

14. Is Thunderpussy's sidekick. Carry's her dildo's in his quiver.

15. Despite other appearances, understands how to use an apostrophe.

16. Spells tyres as tires.

17. Will not respond to Slasher P, ever, ever again.

18. Has rather inappropriate relationships with his pets.

19. Has a secret identity. No, wait - Flasher T *is* his secret identity.

20. Flasher T is unaware of the passage of time.

21. Flasher T <-- does not have a period.

22. Flasher T does not gratuitously sign his posts.

Flasher T

23. Flasher T's original website was called but that would have discredited him as a headbanger.

24. Flasher T checks his webserver logs more than Chris McKinstry, he's just less insane about it.

25. Has naked pictures of Marissa Tomei, but has been holding out on us.

26. Is super impatient when it comes to 3 things.
a. Praise
b. Recitations on the early... LET'S RIDE BICYCLES!

27. *Is* Chris McKinstry.

28. Is impatient and judgemental.

29. Likes to prance around in women's panties when no one is watching.

30. Is dying to see what monumental wisdom will result from the final fact.

31. Would like to remind you those were just the "top" 30 facts.

32. Flasher T believes that a kilobyte is 1024 bytes, a megabyte is 1024 kilobytes, and Top 30 lists actually contain 32 items.

Thanks to the inimitable Philo Janus, the Top 30 Flasher T Facts are now available on a wide range of T-wear. All profits go to Philo unless there are a lot, in which case I will demand my share.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

War ==> Peace

OK, fine. I'll admit it. Europe is not perfect. Yes, I am a self-professed Euro Elitist Bastard and a staunch supporter of all things Old World; but I concede that we have our own share of problems.

Tolerance is the cornerstone of European society. This is something that Americans are having trouble grasping, but the roots of the phenomenon are not complicated at all. For as long as Europe can remember, it has been having wars. The history of the continent is most usefully learned and remembered as a succession of wars, with a short comment on the causes, goals and outcomes of each. In the 20th century alone we've had two World Wars and a cold one.

The wars have not stopped, unfortunately - fairly recently we've had war in the Balkans, and those folks aren't nearly done killing each other yet. A lot of Europe - Small Country included - is involved in the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns.

And yet the great wars have instilled into the European mentality a fear of armed conflict. We are still cunning, ambitious and ruthless, but above everything else we want to avoid war. War is an absolute, unquantifiable evil. We have the military capability to go to war, and in an outright conflict the combined armies of the European Union stand a good chance of beating any other military force in the world. But to us, this really is the final argument, which must never be exercised, for all our sakes.

This is the root of European tolerance which is becoming a major problem - the Paris riots have shown this off quite well. We will accept immigrants, because we are the Old World; our responsibility over the good of the planet has not been eschewed from collective consciousness. And if you come here, we will leave you alone; we will give you jobs that pay well, and if you can't hold one, we'll give you welfare so that you have a good quality of life. And we won't hate you. In fact we will do everything in our power to get rid of as much hate as we can. And not just hate towards immigrants, but hate towards any group of people. You can hate a single person as much as you want, it's human and we can't really do anything about it. But we will not let you hate all people for a commonality they share, because that ultimately leads to war. And we cannot let war happen. We will not let war happen. We will sacrifice everything, even our nations, even our cultures, to avoid war.

The miraculous thing is that it seems to work. Despite individual outbreaks, the tolerant welfare society functions remarkably well. Our economy is growing, our living standards are high, and people seem to generally be happy with the state of affairs.

The fact that the New World stubbornly refuses to adopt solutions which are objectively superior - and suffers for it - only strengthens our conviction. We are right, and you are wrong.

Just don't go to war over it.


| More