My home on the web - featuring my real-life persona!

Search for new theme - Failed! — SUCCESS

I have spend the better half of this day trying to find a new theme for this blog, and I failed. I cannot decide on a theme, they all are lacking one thing or another. I have tried to mod a few but having to do it online is….so…slow…. I was considering to run a local Wordpress so I can experiment a little better, but I am not ready to install the whole package.

So, for now I give up - and I am back to plain old Grey Matter. If anyone has a good tutorial to create your own template - I am looking at 3 column with a left and a right sidebar, feel free to comment. I have some experience with CSS and HTML, so it does not have to be ultra newbie. I could probably search too, but in all honestly, I am messing with this since 6 hours and I basically have nothing to show for.

Ha, I was just ready to give up when I stumbled across the theme “whitespace” and with just a little tweak here and there, I think I have found what I was looking for. What do you think?

WordPress 2.6.5 is available!

Ok, I know - you all see that in your dashboard, but it is the first time in my short and sweet life as a blogger that I have to update. So, I’ll do that now - keep your fingers crossed and if it all goes downhill from here - I enjoyed your “company”.

Gobble gobble - Susanne

Translation agencies - Pt. 1

I’ll call this “Pt. 1″ since I am sure there will be more.

Every now and then, I get sales calls from translation agencies trying to sell their services. I don’t like sales people, not the people per se but in their profession. As soon as they put on their “sales hat”, they are all the same and it doesn’t matter if they sell cars, insurances, electronics or anything else on commission.

Most phone calls start with them asking me about our process, and I explain to them how we handle translation here. It must be a substantial part of sales training, to never accept “No” as an answer. They keep listing their top selling points and how it would benefit us and I keep telling them that we are doing fine with our part in-house, part freelance setup. Everything I say is met with an answer that basically tries to tell me that they can do it better. This can go on forever with the sales person “Ma’m”-ing me and me deconstructing their pro arguments because it simply does not apply to us.

I really like it when they tell me that this could save us so much money by eliminating the in-house translation department. Say what? I am the in-house translation department.

Another favorite is when they try to sell us “solutions”. This is usually some workflow management system which in all honesty sounds good, but has an exorbitant price that sometimes exceeds what we spend on translations per year in total for all languages.

And sometimes, for whatever reason, agencies mass mail several different people in-house and then I get the same sales mail 10 times because everyone forwards them to me.

At times, they were so annoying that I told them to not ever call me again. Sometimes I am trying to explain to them that they really really really are wasting their time. And if all else fails, I just let them send their expensive, fancy, glossy brochures and then I dodge their follow-up calls.

Now, right before the ATA Conference, we had another good one. Someone from an agency sent an email to my boss (who is a tech writer and not a translator), which he forwarded. The first email ended with the words:

Most of our clients are looking for ways to reduce the overall cost of translation while streamlining and improving internal processes. XXX is one of the world’s leading providers of translation and localization management solutions. I would appreciate the opportunity to talk about how we may be able to help you. I understand that you are busy, and guarantee that our discussion will not waste your time.

Wow, a guarantee to not waste our time, that sounds…still not interesting. Send a politely declining email, explaining that we have our own department and handle translations and outsourcing internally. Well, not a good enough decline, now he moves on trying to improve our workflow:

[Our solution] would be more focused around technology, rather than translation services. We partner with a number of in-house translation groups, providing technology to facilitate workflow management, translation memory management, etc.

This email we now follow up with the usual “As mentioned in the previous email, our current system meets our requirements” answer. So now he knows that we don’t need translation, and that we don’t need workflow management. Oh, this agency has more to offer, because now we are approached from a different angle:

I was thinking about our exchange and [your] technical documentation. XXX offers a software tool (plug in to MS Word), that allows our clients’ technical writers to actually reduce the amount of English content. It helps reduce content that requires translation decreasing translation costs, accelerating turn times, as well as lowering printing and shipping costs.

Our clients typically see ROI the first time that they use it.

[...] the tool is completely independent of services - concretely meaning that you can use the tool and change nothing with your current processes.

Awesome, my boss actually forwarded it to me with the words “Sounds like magic”. Not sure if there was another reply from our side, it would have been interesting to see what else this person had to offer.

A week later I am in the exhibition hall of the ATA Conference, and I actually saw a booth of this translation agency. Curious as I am, I think that this is a great moment to have a look at these highly praised management tools without giving a sales person the hope of making a sale. I walk up to the person manning the stand - and she has no idea what I am talking about. I try to explain. She looks at me and asks something like “Do you mean Catalyst?” (which they apparently just acquired). Of course I don’t, but I take it as an indicator that this isn’t going anywhere and most certainly is not leading to a demo of the management tools.

Is there a conclusion to this story? Naaa, not really. I am getting ready for the long weekend - and this is a blog, what did you expect?

OT: I love the Wii

So what, I am late to jump on this train - I can’t be an early adopter with everything :-)

Over the weekend we had borrowed my supervisor’s Wii and it was awesome. A quick explanation to those who don’t know me well enough - in our basement, we have a nice home theater setup with a couple of recliners (with cup holders), a computer and a nice projector (720p).

Watching TV or movies down there is already awesome, but playing Wii in front of a big “screen” blows your mind. We always think of our basement as our “fort” (no grown-ups allowed), and this weekend it was truer than ever. We spent 3 hours on Saturday and 2.5 hours on Sunday playing Tennis, racing karts and helping Super Mario in any way we had to. Man, it was fun. It gets you moving - of course no where as much as real exercise would, but better than just watching TV, reading, playing other games or sitting on your arse in some other way, shape or form.

Now if the darn thing wasn’t just that expensive. $249 for the barebones system with only one controller and nothing else. Most bundles are more in the range of $350 to 400 which is a lot of money and you cannot get good deals at eBay either. Nintendo is still not producing enough so most stores don’t have any to start with (BestBuy sold out online and store availability is 0 apparently - or they simply don’t let you check).

That drives the prices of used systems up because people are still just happy to have one and there is no bargain to be had anywhere. I have read somewhere that it is a quality control issue but it’s going into year 3 now, so they should have quality control under control. On a different page, I read that the Nintendo factories are running at capacity and in order to increase, they would have to build additional facilities. Apparently, Nintendo is cautious and doesn’t want to invest the money in additional facilities because right now they can run them at 100% and with more facilities they may not run as profitable.

Oh well, I love the Wii and I want one - and don’t tell me Christmas is right around the corner. I am happy if I make it until Black Friday before I give into my single-child-urge to have it NOW.

Your link does not work

If you are horsing around on mailing lists for a while, you will inevitably run into the “broken link syndrome”.

In the good old days of static HTML pages, a path to a webpage usually consisted of manually created files and folders. The person naming them usually picked names that made sense. So, for the “About” page, a URL could be http://www.mypage.com/content/about.htm or a link to an image could be http://www.mypage.com/images/mypic.jpg. Larger websites had deeper paths, but still, they generally made sense, for example http://www.mycompany.com/content/reports/2007/financial.htm.
The above links here are “cold” intentionally because I made them up.

Today, most websites and blogs are database driven, and that means that many files and folders are generated by the content management or shopping system or whatever else drives the website. Sometimes they are customizable, for example here in Wordpress but often they are not or no one has done it. Clicking on even a simple link passes data to the website and is often added to the link. This could be a search string (e.g. for Google), a session ID (e.g. for message boards), special instructions how the page is supposed to be displayed (character set, encoding, language, location or even layout) or commands that are passed (e.g. submit, post). Here is an example - searching for hdmi on Newegg:
http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&DEPA=0&Order=BESTMATCH&Description=hdmi&x=0&y=0

If you think that is bad, see what happens after I log into my account at Newegg:
http://www.newegg.com/product/productlist.aspx?submit=ene&depa=0&order=bestmatch&description=hdmi&x=0&y=0&guid=7c7d7e6b0123632e8795e0015e9795b7

Now the URL also contains a randomly generated user ID and has grown to 144 characters (and my search string was only 4 characters long). Due to the additional information, the URL gets longer and longer - and that is where the problem starts. Most email programs force line breaks after 70 to 80 characters. The line break is usually not inserted in the middle of a word or other obviously connected items, but what if a “word” is longer than 70 or 80 characters? The Newegg URL is 106/144 characters long; many Google search result URLs are even longer because they contain all search terms. In this case the email program has to force a wrap somewhere, and unfortunately the line break cuts off essential parts of the URL. When you receive this email, it is still clickable, but you are missing essential parts and it cannot reach the destination anymore. You either end up with an unrelated page or get a “page not found” error.

There are several reasons for this issue:

  1. most mailing lists only accept emails in plain text, and not HTML or rich text. With HTML, this would not happen (RTF fails too) but it would open up a whole new can of worms
  2. the URL was not formatted properly for plain text emails - there are tricks to prevent long URLs from breaking in plain text emails
  3. using the “wrong” email program - of course this is relative, a program isn’t wrong because it can’t handle URLs, but from what I have heard Eudora is smart and able to identify a URL thus not breaking it and apparently some Mac email clients also handle URL smart
  4. something out of your control breaks it, the email program of the recipient, the operating system can play a role, or what email system processes your message on its way to the list

So, now how do I prevent the links from breaking? There are a few different ways, not all work all the time.

  • Add <pointy brackets> around the URL, which is easy, quick and shows the recipients where you want them to go but it doesn’t always work.
  • Use TinyURL, but that can backfire because many people don’t trust TinyURL since you cannot see where you are going and you can have a nasty surprise waiting behind it. TinyURL is aware of that issue and has added a preview feature. The preview feature brings you to an interim page that will show you the full URL and you can decide whether you want to go there or not. Also, most people will actually tell you what they are linking and you have to decide if you trust them or not.

And what if you are on the receiving end? Well, you have to put the URL back together. I don’t think it is that hard. Usually, I click on Forward and just delete the extra line break in the URL. Sometimes you also have to delete the forward/reply markers like °, >, or SA> . usually you can see how the whole URL magically turns blue again and once all the URL garbage has been concatenated you can click it.

BTW, the reason why I use Forward and not Reply is so I don’t accidentally send it back to the list. Forward will leave the recipient field empty and prevents you from sending it.

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