31 October 2005


lunch break blog

I'm eating some lunch (1/4 of a sandwich and a few pieces of candy corn--it's Halloween!) and remembering it's been too long since I posted.
things have been busy.
after my first full week at work, Hiro and I went on a retreat up at Fort Worden. it was a lot of fun, but we didn't get a lot of sleep, what with three fire alarms on Saturday night. came back with a cold, and needed to take off work.
so there's an advantage to working on a contract already. yes, you're not paid for hours you don't work, but at the same time, when there is also freelance income coming in, it's not as painful.
speaking of which, when a freelance check came in, I bought our plane tickets for our trip to Connecticut at Thanksgiving. so full six days of full-on familiness. Hiro's pretty anxious about it, but then again, so am I. of course, being with our new nephew will be fun, as well as the trips to NYC again. something about my grandfather's looming 96th birthday party, and the possibility of meeting many many relatives again is probably best discussed in another blog...
work just now is fairly tedious. alignment. to explain: say you have older translated files. you want to incorporate the translation into a database so, when translating newer version of the files, you won't have to do everything from scratch. so we align the translated files against the original Japanese files by matching up, line by line, which sentence in English corresponds with which sentence in Japanese. takes a lot of time. and there's 1400 files... yow.
and there are now four of us contractors working in the one office. the others are worried about it getting hot in here, but the surgery still has my body temperature a little cooler than normal, so if anything, I want it to be warmer.
last week was a lot of rain, so I wimped out and drove. not good. this morning I decided to bike it anyway. out came my old blue raincoat and my (hopefully) waterproof pants. it was good to be on the bike again.
and now, the Monday staff meeting...

20 October 2005


getting up to speed

it's ironic. after working on a product for people writing software while I was at that big company for the past four and a half years, I actually had very little exposure to code. after all, our process was to convince developers to squeeze everything that needed translating into as few files as possible, and for those files to basically be collections of translatable text.
what's more, the tools we used for our work sanitized the experience. all I saw was what needed to be translated (although I know this wasn't always true for some of my colleagues).
now, I am looking at code all day. I'm not translating UI, either. although I worked on a small manual for one component on Monday, since then I have had lots of code. makefiles. CPP files. H files.
and I'm translating comment files. stuff we usually ignored at my old company.
of course, it makes sense to translate this stuff. the code was written by developers, and it's going to be read by developers who need to make more code based on it. so they need to know how the code they read was written.
but developers are rarely good writers. of course, they suffer from the chronic afflictions of spelling and grammar mistakes (as I do). but the medium in which they write demands that they be terse. when the lines end, they can't just keep typing. they either have to finish a sentence (or a thought, even) within less than 80 spaces, or pretend they're on a typewriter: hit the carriage return, the space bar a few times, and then start typing again.
so they write in short bursts. calls function. returns value. very stacatto.
and if they happen to be verbose, which can be good for the reader, it's not good for the translator. although short sentences can be hard to work on (where's the verb? which one is the subject? what tense are we in?), long sentences have two major problems, one of which is brand new to me.
the old issue is the increased complexity. Japanese syntax is, in essence, the reverse of English. yes, in a simple sentence, the subject usually comes first (but readers rely more on little particles, parts of speech that mark the function of nouns in sentence). the complexity comes when clauses modifying nouns or phrases move in. those clause precede the modified part, unlike English, where a modifying clause usually comes after (with a which or a that marking it). so, in Japanese, you can be reading along and suddenly realize that what you just thought was the main bits of the sentence, is actually a modifying clause, 'cause here come the main buts, but wait, this is a modifying clause too...
parsing the sentence is half the fun, I suppose... :)
but when a long sentences has these line breaks in the middle, as code forces a writer to include, the software that we use to track our translations is thrown a curve. the way translation memory software works is it breaks down the original text into units. usually a unit ends with a period. or a colon. or a line break... uh-oh.
if Japanese syntax is the reverse of English, what this can mean is that I have to translate the part of the sentence at the end, sometimes three or four lines down, first. the translation units don't really match, then. so we can't really consider long sentences an effective part of the translation memory. which means the translator relies on the older version of translation memory: gray matter. :)

some other things to report.

my new work place has a nice cafeteria, though I've only gotten a drink there (Crystal Light! hurray!). I should probably reserve comment until I actually eat something. I bring my lunch. Monday it was microwaveable spinach curry. Tuesday, chicken soup. Wednesday, leftover oden (a Japanese dish where you boil foods together in a clear soup base of fish and seaweed stock. I made mine with tofu and fish cake, which I love). I also bring my Crystal Light packets and my protein bars.

there's a store at the new company, and they sell refurbished equipment, cheaply! Hiro is excited about that, as I knew he would be.

finally found my iPod so I can listen to my music at work, instead of webcasts from radio stations, which are nice, but the quality.... headphones are a necessity. after working in an office with a door for so long, it's hard to concentrate when there are other people around. I used to do it in Japan, though, so I'll probably eventually wean myself from the iPod.

music note: next year is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart. Wolfie fans, unite! I have the complete Mozart recordings Phillips released several years ago at the 200th anniversary of his death, so I need to get those onto my iPod for the celebrations! I nominated three of his pieces for a Classical Top 40 at a local radio station, but one of them is not well known. it's called A Musical Joke in English, and it's Mozart's parody of the shlock composers of his day. if you've ever taken a class in composition, it's really funny to listen to, because it makes all the mistakes they tell you not to in class. and it sounds so awful in places, I just laugh out loud. I know, not a well-known piece, or one people might like upon hearing, even, but it's always been one of my favorites...

okay, time to go to work!

18 October 2005

(I'm trying to decide how much detail is OK to include in a public blog. I'm guessing not a lot, at least for now...)
so, last Friday was my last day at the big company I used to work for. I think the decision to leave was one of the hardest ones I ever made, and yet I also think it was one of the better decisions. I wasn't too happy, and they were noticing, so they weren't too happy; nobody was happy! which isn't to say that it was all a big sobfest. au contraire. (Morticia, you spoke French!)
I worked with a lot of great people, and as the week unravelled I realized how much I was going to miss them. I also liked the job I did, but, truth be told, I didn't love it. yes, there were other issues involved, but as Jerome Kerns reminded us all, you have to ac-cen-tu-ate the positive, e-lim-i-nate the negative!
so I consulted my tea leaves and this is what they said: Canadian emigration is about to become a waiting game (we're thinking the move will be in late 2006 or early 2007) so staying at a full-time position doesn't necessarily make sense. when you work full-time, they kinda like you to plan for the future, and when you don't have a future to plan for...
in addition, I figured it was time to do something I knew I was better at. something more creative, yet challenging. most people don't consider translation to be that something, but I've been working as a translator on and off since 1990 and I have to say it is something I have never gotten bored with. always something new. looking back at my most recent freelance jobs, I translated into English promotional materials for a tire company and an AV manufacturer, game scripts, transcribed a series of spirituals and then translated them into Japanese and then edited a series of environmental impact reports that had been translated by someone else. just switching your mindset to work in the different vocabulary milieux (while looking up the proper plural for that word--thank you Google) is a creative challenge...
so now, I'm doing it as a contractor. as a freeter, I suppose.
what's that, you ask? well, the Japanese word for contractor is arubaito, which is based on the German word for worker: arbeiter. but it's not a fun word. and it implies a lengthy contract. mine is just six months (with an option to extend it for another six, if all goes well). so the Japanese have another word for someone who's halfway between contracting and total all-out freelance (the ultimate destiny): freeter (spelled more like friita in Japanese, but you get the drift).
and yesterday was day one of the new freeter life.
and who knew? it comes with a bike!
seriously, I decided to bike to my new place of contract employment. Hiro helped refit my old Giant with a new seat, and he refilled the tires for me, and yesterday morning, off I went. there's a bike path between our condo complex and the new office. probably less than two miles. takes about twenty minutes each way. little hills at the start and end, so I arrive both at work and home (especially home, 'cause I carry the bike back upstairs to the condo) with a sheen of perspiration ('cause only horses sweat!), but it felt good. Hiro was so nervous 'cause I hadn't ridden outdoors in a long time, and I don't yet have those thingies for your pants cuffs, so he envisioned me falling after snagging my pants in the gears. didn't happen. :)
and the new job is a nice change. so far, here's how I think it's going to work: I arrive at work, they send me an assignment, I do it. after many years away from it, I am using Trados again, and it comes with project management capabilities, so jobs are assigned and checked in through the software. and I forgot how nice it is to have suggestions as you translate. the AI looks at the database and says, oh, this sentence is like one you (or someone else) already translated. here's what you did before. nice. color-coded too, so you can tell when the original is a perfect match with another sentence, or when it is what they call a fuzzy match.
there are currently two other contractors working in the same office with me (in a space that probably once housed some exec...) and more are going to come on board soon they say. crunch time is coming, which means possible overtime. which is, as Martha would say, a very *good* thing.
what do I translate? well, I can't tell you that. it's very technical, but I have to say it's fun so far.
the new company is much smaller than where I used to work, but there's a nice-looking cafeteria down the hall (with a Starbucks--praise heaven!), and some very nice people working there besides me. one of them knew me from my Japan days. how serendipitous!
and, Hiro is going to be so happy, there's a company store where even us lowly contractors can shop! can you say Christmas?
I decided to blog this for a while because it'll be some time before things settle down enough to let me get back to photography and art, and I also figured people might want to know more about my new life. I do. :)
check back in tomorrow. the posting will be shorter, but hopefully with good things to report.

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