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

Client ranting about translation service

We all hear ourselves and fellow translators rant on about clients, how stupid and obnoxious they sometimes are - I guess that is a common thing in all professions. On the other hand, we rarely hear people rant about  us and our service.

I ran into a blog post by Thomas Kilian who posted about the email conversation he had with a fellow translator. He got a couple of unsolicited offers (and if you read my previous post, you know how I feel about cold calls, cold emails aren’t much different).  While I do not know this specific translator, I have to admit that his replies were a little, well - read for yourself: Entspammung vor dem Wochenende - blog post is German, sorry for that.

BTW, I don’t think either of them was right or wrong, but man, did that go wrong :p

Thomas, if you read this, most of us are actually pretty nice and competent. Feel free to ask me if you ever need a good, friendly translator - you name the topic :-)

Cold callers asking for call-back

Is this normal? I am receiving an unsolicited call from a translation agency which I have never done business with. The name appeared on the caller ID so I didn’t pick up. The caller left a message, asking me to call him back. Is this normal? Why would I want to call him back? Usually, cold callers will just try again, but not ask you to call them.

I hope this doesn’t go around, and next I have Planned Parenthood, the local Police Department, the local Fire Department, Clean Water Action, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and what not call and ask me to call them back. Now, don’t get me wrong - I would like to get this message and then be able to decide whether I call back or not. And of course, if I DON’T call back, they should take the hint that I am not interested. But they don’t and just keep calling.

In recent days, this procedure and the whole “charities begging for money thing” has actually turned me away from giving money to anyone. If you give something once, they will call you every other month and ask for more. And they will not take No for an answer.

Fun with character encodings

What do ASCII, ANSI, Latin-1, Windows-1252, Unicode and UTF have in common?

They are a pain in the neck for translators - but also, they are ways to encode characters in files, even in plain text files that usually seem as “un-encoded” as possible. Most of the time, you don’t have a problem with it, you open a txt file, you don’t really know (or need to know) what character format it has. The only reason why most people even know about this is because of the “bush hid the facts” (see below) trick in Notepad. I am not going into the history and details of the various formats, at the bottom are some links to other pages that deal with that if you want to learn more. I am merely looking at the consequences it can have for me during translation.

What I care more about is the fact that it can really break your neck during translation of string files. I run into that on and off and every time it happens, I learn a little bit more about it. I wanted to write about it since quite a while, and since the whole thing came down again earlier this week, I think it is time now.

We have a little update tool for an application that is written in Java. Java programs usually have their strings in .properties files. Those files are usually encoded in the 8-bit characters of ISO 8859-1 (aka Latin-1) which contains most “regular” characters but lacks support for language specific characters like ü Ü é or ñ. Those characters have to be converted into Unicode escape characters sometimes referred to as Java escape characters. I think most of us have experienced other escape characters, for example the \n for a new line, \t for a tab. Unicode escape characters are a little more involved, using a \uHHHH notation, where HHHH is the hex index of the character in the Unicode character set. So, for example the ß in a Java properties file has to be encoded into \u00df. To convert those characters, I use Rainbow which is part of the Okapi Framework. It has a handy Encoding Conversion Utility that allows you to convert files from one encoding to another.

Sounds really easy, right? Right? Now what is this woman complaining about again? Well, it’s not that easy. The conversion tool is designed to work with 8-bit ASCII-based encodings. Now, so what IS the problem - it was just stated that Java properties files are ASCII-based encodings? Well, TagEditor takes the ASCII file and when you “Save as Target” after translation, it converts the file into a UTF-8. And that is still not the problem, the problem is that it uses a UTF-8 format without a BOM (Byte Order Mark). The BOM is an (invisible) 2 byte sequence in the beginning of a file which basically tells a program “This is a Unicode file”. Without the BOM, some programs do not recognize the encoding of the file and assume ASCII - and that is the problem with Rainbow (and also with Passolo, a program that just got bought by SDL).

If you try to convert the encoding of a BOMless Unicode file, it goes terribly wrong. As I mentioned, the correct conversion of ß will give you \u00df. Converting a BOMless file will “double escape” the extended characters, and you get \u00c3\u0178 - clearly not the same. The “double escape” is actually a good indicator that something went wrong, if you check your file and see that your extended characters are represented by two escape sequences, you know something went wrong. Of course, that can be difficult when dealing with languages like Greek, Russian or Asian languages, simply because every single character is escaped. I usually try to find a short string and count.

Now, how do you know how a file is encoded? Right now, I use Notepad++ to check. It has a handy little Format menu and allows you to see which encoding is used and it also allows you to convert from one encoding to another. Supported formats are Windows, UNIX, Mac, ANSI, UTF-8 w/o BOM, UTF-8 and UCS-2 Big and Little Endian. Surprisingly, Windows Notepad is one of the few programs that actually manages to decipher the Unicode encoding even without a BOM, just open the BOMless file in Windows Notepad and save them without change. Unfortunately, you usually just don’t know and usually it isn’t even an issue.

I actually happen to get to talk to Yves Savourel, who is working at ENLASO and with the Okapi Framework (and about a gazillion other things related to localization), and he has been very helpful. He explained a few things to me a little better.

    The issue:

  • a BOMless UTF-8 file is recognized as “windows-1252″ encoding
  • a UTF-8 file uses two or more bytes to encode the extended characters
  • the application thinks each of those bytes is a separate character and converts each into a Unicode escape sequence
    The solution:

  • in Rainbow, manually force the encoding of the source file to UTF-8
  • in Rainbow, use the Add/Remove BOM utility to set the BOM properly

If you got through all this stuff, you may now wonder if you’ll ever run into this issue. It is also not just about BOM or not, the whole file encoding raises issues in other applications too. To be honest, I don’t know how often freelance translators are confronted with these types of files, but here are the situations where I keep my eye peeled:

  • Java files (.properties)
    This was the most recent issue that triggered this post.
  • String export files (often XML files or even plain txt)
    I tend to get the strings for REALBasic applications in XML files, though I believe they are created by RegexBuddy.
  • Non-Windows files or Windows files that will be used on other OSs
    We run into this issue with txt files the were created on a Mac and that will be used in InstallShield-type applications, for example to display the license agreement or a readme file.
  • All files
    Haha, very funny - I know. What I mean is, I have experienced various issues with files, if I have to process them through different applications in order to get CAT-translatable files, for example if we receive a weird string file that Trados doesn’t understand and where we need to find a managable way to extract translatable text.

Anyway, maybe this will help someone else in the situation where the client comes back and claims the files are corrupt or so. Otherwise, I apologize for boring the heck out of you. You should have stopped reading my post a long time ago :-)

Some interesting links with related information:

Okapi Framework
Bush hid the facts hoax and Bush hid the facts on Wikipedia
How to Determine Text File Encoding
Cast of Characters: ASCII, ANSI, UTF-8 and all that

Localization: Engineering Software for a Global Market

Here is a PDF that I printed from a Powerpoint presentation. This PPT was part of a presentation I did during my CS350 class (Introduction to Software Engineering). I have also added it to the company intranet as a quick reference for new developers - apparently, localization is rarely touched in CS classes.

If you work in software localization, have a look at it and let me know what you think. Is there something I should add?

Localization: Engineering Software for a Global Market

If you like to use this for anything, it would be nice to mention me as the creator. I have spent a lot of time creating this and you wouldn’t want to be credited for someone else’s work, would you?

Something funny happened on my way to work…

…well, maybe funny is not the right word. On my way to work, there was a truck in front of me and all of a sudden, something fell off the truck to the right and into the ditch. A second later, I saw a tire - the whole thing including rim - bounce down the highway and then off into the median. I was freaking out, what if more crap comes falling off the truck to hit me? I was swearing up a storm about some idiot dump truck driver who didn’t fasten his load properly! The truck pulled off to the right and in passing I noticed it was crooked - and it wasn’t a dump truck but a Comcast bucket truck and he actually lost two of his wheels WHILE DRIVING. I have no idea how that happens but I believe that getting hit by a truck tire including rim while drive 70mph on the highway must be a real blast - probably not the best way to start your day! Thank God nothing happened!

And in case someone is wondering why it got a little quiet around here, I am really busy with my ASP.NET class. Seems like this is the first class at Davenport that is challenging enough to keep me from blogging! I spent the last two weekends working through the chapters, doing examples and homework. This is a condensed 7 week class and we are doing what you are usually supposed to do in a whole semester, so it is 70 pages a week while still working full time. I am glad I am really enjoying this class and that the weather sucks anyway, otherwise I would be miserable.

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