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

Context please!

I am just going through my old list email. Since I filter them to different directories it doesn’t bother my inbox I don’t care much if they accumulate. They never have attachments, so even a few thousand emails don’t amount to any significant file size.

One of my pet peeves are translation questions without context. Actually, it applies not only to translation mailing lists but to all types of online communication and all sorts of topics. If you have a computer question, you should always include your computer specs or what exactly the problem is and how it started. The question “What should I do if my computer doesn’t boot anymore?” is impossible to answer.

I am never sure why people do not add the specifics or the sentence before and/or after to their questions. Sometimes, if you are in a hurry, you may forget it and just slap the sentence into an email and send it off. It happens, that’s OK. Unfortunately, you sometimes see an elaborate email that omits the context and in that case you know it was not written in a rush. So, what makes those people omit the oh-so-important context?

A few possible reasons come to mind:

  • The asker feels the context is not relevant
    This is a poor judgment call given the fact that the asker didn’t understand the sentence well enough to translate it in the first place. To a native speaker, the sentence before and after is often the deciding factor for a translation. This is not a “need-to-know” situation, unless the asker is translating highly confidential material for the CIA or FBI. Let the mailing list decide how much additional information they need, but give them as much as possible.
  • The asker feels the context is obvious
    This may be true in some cases, but in most cases it is just obvious to the asker because his mind is “in the text”. The people on the mailing list have no idea what the translation is about. And even if they know the general context, it is usually important to know who said something, the frame of mind of the narrator, the time frame - or for technical items, if it is a description, a caption, a menu item, a catalog entry etc.
  • The asker finds it more appropriate to explain the context
    This is my favorite. In this case, the mailing list has to trust that the asker actually understood the parts before and after, which can be dubitable. He didn’t understand the sentence he is asking about, so how can he be sure he understood the sentence before and after properly? The target language explanation is a translation of his understanding which doubles the error rate. First the context is possibly misunderstood, and second it is possibly mistranslated.

In the end, it is a big waste of time for everyone involved. People who are trying to help send possible solutions that are totally useless within the context - which they couldn’t tell because there was no context. Members of the mailing list get annoyed to the point where they don’t even answer anymore, but just roll their eyes and hit the “Delete” key. The mailing list gets swamped with a back-and-forth of emails with the context slowly unfolding and with the new information, people “re-answer”.

In one of those discussions a couple of months back, a fellow translator and ATA/GLD member Karin Bauchrowitz replied with a great comment (she was quoting someone from a conference):

Beginners translate word by word, then it goes up to sentence by sentence, then paragraph by paragraph, but only the experienced translators go by the entire text, meaning that they take the entire text under consideration.

Considering the topic of this post - do your fellow list members a favor: don’t ask for help posting a word or sentence. For a proper translation, give them at least a paragraph of the text!

Google OS or My Life with Google

Wow, what a move. Seems like Google is really serious about taking on the IT world - not that there was any doubt about it after the last few years.

It started out with the search engine, and I remember I was using Dogpile as a search engine back then. Dogpile queried several search engines back then, and Google was one of them. I didn’t see the need to switch, I felt I got the Google results anyway. But very soon, it seemed like Google is really all you need. I thought the caching function was simply awesome, being able to see pages that were long gone.

Next came Gmail, and again I thought I really didn’t need yet another web mail provider. I already had GMX, MyRealBox, a couple of college accounts and a few POPs, so do I need one more? But Google was smart again, with their “Invite only” scheme, they lured me in. Back then, it was just cool to be one of the “chosen people” and once an online acquaintance said he could invite me, I pounced on it. Not that I was a really early adopter - I just checked and my first Gmail dates 9/1/04, but it was still invite only and you only had 5 invites or so. Now, 5 years later, Gmail is pretty much all I use, thanks to the vast amount of storage and retention they offered. And again, they were the forerunner and almost everyone has now switched from the measly 10 MB they used to offer to several GB.

Over the next years they have come out with a few new products, which imho are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Google Docs are nice, but nothing special. The calendar application seems to be popular with some. There is the chat, uh well - I am not a big chatter. I do use the Google Books for classes, sometimes I am lucky and the book I am using in class is available, often in a different edition or older version but nevertheless enough to give me quick access for tests or just to read up while at work.

Then late last year they released the browser Google Chrome. While they say it is now the fourth most browser, that doesn’t mean much because it still is just a user base of less than 2%. I have to admit that I have come to like it more and more. When I am coding web pages, I use it to avoid installing Safari. Both are based on Apple’s open source engine WebKit, but Chrome is not nagging as much with updates and fixes - Safari is relentless. Both have a way of just “looking pretty” - the Mac way. Try it if you haven’t gotten around to it. It is very non-obtrusive, it’s a very light-weight download (under 1 MB IIRC) and can easily be installed and uninstalled. Again, not a real revolution but as a budding web devloper, I welcome every competitor to the all mighty Internet Explorer.

There are more members in the Google family, but stuff like YouTube, Google Groups, Blogger etc. were really just acquisitions or integrations of well established services.

Now today I found this in my Wired newsfeed: Google Announces PC Operating System to Compete with Windows - now there is a revolution in the making. Google has always been a hit with mainstream PC people. Will this be the operating system that Linux always tried to be, but was too geeky to deliver to the Average Joe? It is a Linux flavor, but it will be heavily based on Chrome. The way I understand it, it is almost like a front end to the web and as browser-centric as Windows tried to be. And from what I see from friens and relatives, the web is pretty much the only thing 80% of all PC home users need anyway - email, reading news and gossip, general communication, Facebook/MySpace - you don’t need an operating system for that, you just need a browser. With Web 2.0 this is more true than ever.

Now, they already have Android, the mobile OS used by the HTC Dream/T-Mobile G1 cell phone. It never generated the buzz it probably should have simply because most people considered it an iPhone rip-off. Unfortunately, I never saw one in the wild - also an indication of the low market penetration.

So, am I too much of a fan girl for being excited about this? Am I a chump for thinking Google is the fair-haired boy of the internet? Should I be scared that Google is slowly crawling into just about every part of my life?

Email Delays (Yahoogroups et al.)

If you are a member of a Yahoogroup, you are probably aware of the incredible delays that can happen between the time the email was sent and the time it was received. We are all so spoiled and anything less than instantaneously is almost unacceptable. With Yahoogroups, it sometimes is really bad. I have seen messages delayed for hours, even days and sometimes you see answers to questions that have been long answered sufficiently. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of people who are just slow and late and like to reply to messages just to say something and basically repeating what has already been said.

But delays are not just happening with Yahoogroups, regular emails can also be delayed but in all honesty, it rarely happens. If you are curious and like to see if someone’s redundant reply was just sloppy or if there was a real email delay, you can check up on that.

In Outlook, this is pretty easy. Generally, the column that most people associate with the time of the email is called “Received”. This column shows date and time when you received the email. This information is nice and good, but wouldn’t it be nice to know when the email has actually been SENT? No problem!

Rightclick any of the column heads (for example said “Received” column) and select “Field Chooser” (DE: Feldauswahl, FR: Sélecteur de champs, ES: Selector de campos). A little list pops up, scroll down to S and drag and drop the item “Sent” onto the column heads. In Outlook 2007, two little arrows indicate the insert position - I usually position it next to the Received column.

Now, I am sure you can extract that information from the email header, but there you have to deal with all the different time zones and convert from UTC to GMT or whatever else your email passed through.

Unfortunately, I cannot find a similar function in Thunderbird, which I use at home. I am not sure why because I believe this information is really valuable - but maybe I am just a snoop! So, the next time your client tells you he/she sent the file a long time ago, and it arrives in your inbox a minute later, you know if it is true or not.