Archive for September, 2010

The only constant is change

I love languages, linguistics, and the art of translation. I also love computers, the Internet, video games, Wired magazine, web design, und the science of technology.

I always felt that it was impossible to successfully and elegantly combine the two, but I didn’t know how – especially when it came to my website or how I use Twitter. My translation clients are vastly different from my web design clients. I didn’t/don’t cater to this but instead used/use one blog, one website, one Twitter feed.

Well, no longer! This morning I decided that it was/is time for a change and that I will completely overhaul my website to give my (potential) customers the customized content that they need. I might also scrap Joomla as it’s just too slow and doesn’t give me enough flexibility. Change is good! Also, I met a graphic designer this past weekend, so it’s all coming together… Stay tuned!

To Adobe or not to Adobe?

As a small business owner, I find myself having to supply various documents in PDF format, such as invoices or references. Adobe being the expensive tool that it is, I have found a few *free* and open source tools that make life so much easier!

Convert to PDF

These tools convert your Word doc (or whatever) into a pretty, professional-looking, non-editable PDF. It’s like printing, only you print to PDF instead of to a printer. Various options by different vendors are available, e.g.

Merge PDF’s

Have several PDF documents and need to merge them all into one? This is a headache without shelling out for Adobe’s PDF suite, but there’s help! PDF reDirect allows you to do just that – merge PDF’s. Nothing else – no removing of pages, no inserting an external image. But it does merge PDF’s (and you can add encryption if you want):

Annotate PDF’s

How many times did you need to add a comment to a PDF doc but couldn’t? With PDF-XChange Viewer you can! For free.

So, do you need to pay for Adobe? If you’re big into DTP, journalism or graphic design, then maybe you do. But if you’re just a small business owner in need of a couple of features, then these free tools provide all you need. Enjoy!

PS The above tools have been tried and tested by me, and the views expressed here are my own personal opinion. I am not endorsing any particular company, I am merely sharing my experience with some everyday tools I find useful.

I feel the need, the need for… machine translation

Following an interesting late-night discussion with fellow linguists, I feel the need to chat a little more about MT. The argument was that you cannot translate unless you understand meaning. I don’t believe that’s true. I believe the number of possible word and letter combinations is finite – very large, but finite nonetheless. So, all you need is a computer system that can handle an incredible amount of data – say, billions of lines of text – plus some kind of a clever AI engine that calculates probabilities. If we can eloquently translate the weather forecast – and I have not cross-checked this, so let’s just say that we can – then why should a system not be able to tackle a much more complex text?

Enter Google. A recent NYT article states that Google is using a so-called statistical approach and a few hundred billion words to create a model of a language (Source). This sounds very plausible to me. Now, there are some obvious design flaws with this. If the system checks thousands or millions of passages and their human-generated translations, who is to say that the human translation was flawless to begin with? But if I read this MT translation of The Little Prince, it is almost – eerily – better than its human equivalent! To be fair, the other MT translations in that same article did not impress me at all – but The Little Prince did.

So, in conclusion, I believe that decent-quality MT translation is not that far off, maybe in the next 10-15 years. But don’t quit your day job just yet – a sophisticated or literary text will always need to be proof-red and fact-checked by a human. Only change is constant – we just need to adapt and change the way we, as translators, work. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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