Critics: Anton Ego and Mr. Cranky

There was a time when I didn’t know what a film or restaurant critic was. These were in the halcyon days of my youth, when I would go to restaurants or movies in New York City with my mother, the internet didn’t exist, and the only critics I knew about were “us.” [Of course, my mother, being a stage and commercial actress was well acquainted with reviews since the earliest days of her dramatic career, beginning in the 1920s (I think she appeared in an elementary school play at age 4), but she charitably kept me insulated from their mercuriality.]

We had successes and failures. As I have written about before, we loved Fonda del Sol, Xochitl, Mamma Leone’s, Proof of the Pudding, and many others.

We loved Peter Sellers as a comedian, but when we went to see “Only Two can Play,” my mother was mortified and I – at age 11 – was uncomfortable – we left the theater and mom demanded a refund.

Bottom line, we knew what we liked.

Then came the electronic age, with Rotten Tomatoes, Flixster, Yelp!, Wikipedia, UrbanSpoon (much better than Yelp, but sadly defunct), and access to reviews from hundreds of sources. And because these things are highly subjective and largely a matter of personal opinion¹, reviews varied widely from one pole to the other, and I often found that if reviews of a movie were negative I would come away from a movie I had enjoyed, wondering what the critics were talking about.

The best summation of a critic’s rôle I think I ever heard came in the beautiful soliloquy of Anton Ego in the dénouement of “Ratatouille,” for which credit must be given to the inestimable Brad Bird:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations, the new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new, an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau’s famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realize, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau’s, who is, in this critic’s opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau’s soon, hungry for more.

Over time I came to see that most critics indeed would shred films because negative publicity got more traction, more buzz, or in modern parlance, more clicks – and hence more exposure for their particular brand. (There were exceptions of course – Siskel and Ebert’s point/counterpoint usually gave a good feel for consensus, and the Deseret News’ Chris Hicks tried to be honest without being snarky, meaning that I usually found myself in agreement with his assessments.)

But without question, the most savage movie reviewer of all time was Mr. Cranky, otherwise known as Jason Katzman.

cranky

From 1996 until 2008, Mr. Cranky reveled in writing the snarkiest, most deprecatory reviews one could imagine. His rating scale was only negative, with “one bomb” being the best one could hope for:

bombs

I once wrote to him, asking if there were any movies he liked, and he responded, “I don’t like movies.” As I learned when his website came to a close, this was simply part of his online persona. Much was revealed in his departing essay, making clear that his efforts over time were less about shredding movies than they were about shredding reviews and reviewers in general. I reproduce the entire essay below:

Mr. Cranky says “Goodbye!”

MESSAGE FROM YOUR HOST: In the summer of 1995, Hans Bjordahl and I were sitting in a friend’s dining room drinking beer when he posed this question: “Do you have any good ideas for a web site?” Hans was the creative director for a small internet firm about to build its first internet mall. I was the film critic for a local newspaper. After a few more beers for creative inspiration, Mr. Cranky was born.
The site began building in October of 1995 and was launched in February of 1996. It was an instant hit and the mall’s most frequented property. Traffic skyrocketed within the first three months. Emails came in fast and furious. Some were actually furious – mad at Mr. Cranky for trashing some recent film. There were death threats. However, most emails were ecstatic, thrilled that finally somebody was out there not blowing smoke up the ass of Hollywood, but dragging it over the coals for its failures. Mr. Cranky received mention in “The New York Times”, “The Guardian”, and many, many others. We were the “Cool Site of the Week”. When books printed lists of the best movie web sites, we were on them. The phone started ringing with offers of advertising revenue and such.

Much of the reward for doing Mr. Cranky all these years has been the excitement it created. There was a lot going on during the 1990’s and we frequently found ourselves in the midst of all kinds of developments. We were flown to San Francisco and wined and dined by an up and coming Internet company. We had our pictures taken for the Hollywood issue of “Vanity Fair”. We found ourselves with an agent and discussing book deals. Like most things that seem “pie in the sky” when you hear them, most of them fizzled out. Like most things, the excitement was never met by the potential financial rewards that seem to be mentioned in the same breath. That being said, Mr. Cranky did turn into a pleasant hobby with a small financial reward at the end of the year.

Even after the end of the Internet boom, Mr. Cranky still got by. We were excited to be picked up by “Redeye” in Chicago, a new type of daily directed at Gen Y. The feature was so well received that the editor of the Chicago Tribune mentioned it in one of her meetings. Google contacted us to assign our account its own ad representative – something they probably do for most accounts or groups of accounts, but still, it made us feel important.

Well, as they say, all good things…. Let’s face it, Mr. Cranky has been dying a slow death for a number of years now. It’s increasingly irrelevant, if not completely irrelevant. We’d rather sign off before that becomes the case and we’re probably already too late. Are there other reasons? Well, it’s not bringing in the revenue it once did. The time it takes to keep the site going is substantial. There’s too much other stuff to do. When I first started writing Mr. Cranky, I would sometimes see 8 movies in a week and make 6 trips to Denver from Boulder (70 miles RT). That was great when gas was $1.99. Now, not so much.

Before we retire Mr. Cranky, there are some questions that seem worth answering. Did one person write all the reviews? The answer: about 98% of the reviews were written by me, Jason Katzman. The other 2% were written by others, but mostly Hans, who took up the mantle when I was too tired or had a conflict. Not a single person ever figured out who wrote what even though we got many emails from people asking where “the real Mr. Cranky had gone”. In every instance, they were comparing two reviews I had written, just in very different styles.

Another question that was asked of me often was “Are there any movies you like?” I’m proud to say I never once answered that question and we never tried to pander to the people who just didn’t get it. Not only are there movies I like, I usually enjoy most movies in some way, shape or form. It’s actually pretty rare when I watch a film that has no redeeming value. Is there anybody out there who really thinks that I would spend as much time as I do watching movies if I didn’t enjoy it?

That being said, the reasons we started Mr. Cranky are more than simply “we like to make fun of people”. There are the simple ones, like we wanted to reject the culture of celebrity worship, which is utterly repulsive. Unfortunately, it’s only grown larger since Mr. Cranky started. During my time as a film critic, I did tons of interviews and went on lots of junkets. I can tell you, generally-speaking, most actors aren’t that interesting and aren’t that smart and will rarely tell you the truth about something, particularly what they think about another person in the industry (there are some exceptions, of course: John Sayles, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Guillermo del Toro come to mind. There are also the few stars one meets before they’re stars. I met Kate Winslet when she was 19, before the release of “Heavenly Creatures” and she told a story that I doubt she ever repeated).

A less obvious reason we started Mr. Cranky also emanates from some of these experiences. Film critics, in general (myself included), are full of themselves. They believe that their opinions actually matter. They also believe that somehow there’s a right and a wrong when it comes to film criticism. Mr. Cranky was started to thwart that notion by making fun of film critics and film criticism and pointing out that film writing could be subjective to the point of a critic who didn’t like anything. Besides, if these junkets proved one thing, it’s that most film critics could be swayed by nothing more than a plate of donuts (watching a group of largely fat film critics charge toward a free plate of food while in the midst of a junket in which they’re supposed to form unbiased opinions of the film is its own form of hell). And if the Internet has proved one salient Mr. Cranky point, it’s that anyone can be a film critic. The forums were put in place for just this reason. Mr. Cranky was the first site to invite the reader to challenge the film critic, in fact, to make that challenge a founding principle of the site.

And how could I depart without mentioning the site’s many fans – the Crankizens. There’s no doubt that the activity in the forums have powered the site over the years and become larger-than-life and something we never expected. Over the years, I’ve met a fair number of fans of the site and have been overwhelmed by it all. One of the people I met and befriended through Mr. Cranky is now a successful screenwriter in Hollywood. Early on, a fan from Perth, Australia embarked on a Mr. Cranky World Tour, visiting various places around the world populated by Mr. Cranky fans, culminating with a surprise visit by me in Los Angeles. Then there were the numerous Crankycons that spawned. I went to two: one in Toronto and one in Cedar Point in Ohio where I rode every roller coaster I was challenged to ride (keeping my cool on the world’s fastest, highest coaster, I might add). Heck, people met on Mr. Cranky and got married. I was truly humbled by the invitations and the interest in Mr. Cranky.

And we don’t want to completely close the door on this whole thing. For dedicated Crankizens, there is one sliver of hope: August 31 is our deadline to discontinue the site, but also the deadline to see if there’s any last-ditch means of selling or saving it. We’ve had ‘big plans’ for Cranky 2.0 many times over, but other priorities (not the least among them our “day jobs”) have always intervened, and at some point you’ve just gotta break that cycle and put up or shut up. Serious inquiries along those lines (i.e. those backed by serious levels of funding or remuneration) should be directed to mrcranky@mrcranky.com. Until that time, there won’t be anymore reviews, but the site and the “Goodbye Mr. Cranky” forum will be open for fans to search and recall the past.

Thanks to Randall Gaz for keeping the site going all these years. Thanks to Holley Irvine for all her design work. Thanks to Hans Bjordahl for all the hard work and 12 years of a partnership that was 99% fun with virtually no conflict whatsoever. And most of all, thanks to all the Mr. Cranky readers past and present who made writing Mr. Cranky so rewarding. It’s been a pleasure. We feel like Mr. Cranky introduced a certain style into the Internet world and we hope to hear Mr. Cranky mentioned when the history of the web is written. If not, we’ll be sure to contact whoever is doing the mentioning and tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine as only Mr. Cranky can.

The site is now passworded, but thanks to the miracle of the Wayback Machine, all of Mr. Cranky’s reviews are still accessible; if it ever comes to the Zombie Apocalypse and our electronic information vanishes, 100 of his most snarky reviews were published in a dead-tree edition. The reviews are interesting to peruse, especially the one-bomb category – if Cranky “hated a movie less than most,” it was usually guaranteed to be pretty good. That said, we didn’t always agree. The most scathing review he ever wrote was of “I am Sam,” and I thought that was a pretty tender film. (Note: Don’t read it if you either like the movie or have a sensitive soul.)

Nowadays, Rotten Tomatoes gives one a pretty good idea of which way the wind is blowing. A movie can have good critic reviews but be reviled by the general public, or vice versa. But for myself, it’s rare that I’ll read a review one way or another and decide to see or not see a movie based on critics’ opinions; I’ll generally give more credence to how the movie was received by viewers.

And in the end, like Mr. Cranky said, there are few movies that I don’t like on some level or other. Only rarely do I see a film and say at the end of it, “I want those two hours of my life back.” The last one to do that to both me and my wife was “The Lobster,” despite its 87% rating at RT, but an earlier one I actually took the time to write up myself at my Livejournal was “A Sound of Thunder;” my wife agreed.

Mercifully, those are few and far between.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


¹ My opinions about food are, in the eyes of many people, questionable. Visit my Banquet from Hell for a taste.

Pity the poor translator

One doesn’t work in the translation industry for decades without having some strong feelings about seeing bad translations.

Once when I was in an oriental market, I picked up a packet of dried squid for snacking on.

I already know what you’re thinking. Shut up. 

I think it’s a product of Taiwan, but I’m not sure, because it looks like it’s destined for both the US and Japan.

On the package, it says (spelling errors are transcribed as found):

“This product is under strict ouality control with perfect packing and quality when leaving the factory. Please keep away from damp, high temp or sun expose. If found any defectives when purchasing please retrn the product by airmail to our Administration section and inform the purchase for our improvement we shall give you a satisfactory reply. Thanks for your Patronage and welcome your comments.”

If “ouality” is such a priority, why don’t such asian exporters ever run their documentation or packaging under the eyes of a native English speaker? I could think of a number of reasons:

  1. They’re cheap
  2. Their own estimation of their English ability exceeds actuality
  3. They know the product will sell just as well even with lousy translations
  4. They don’t give a rat’s ass
  5. All of the above

Me, I’d be embarrassed to sell a product in a foreign market with errors like this – but it’s a problem of long, long standing. Translation is often given short shrift in business plans. Too many managers think, “Oh, my secretary Miss Yin speaks English, she can do the translation and I’ll save money.” With the concept of “face” so prominent in Asian cultures, it surprises me that they don’t understand this sort of cost-cutting makes their enterprise look bad. On the other hand, perhaps the average American consumer doesn’t care either.

I’ve mentioned this elsewhere when writing about translation, but I wish I had kept a copy of an ad that appeared on our bulletin board in the early 80’s when I was working for a now-defunct translation software firm. It showed a manager reaming out some poor drone, and the caption was “Because you let your brother-in-law do the translation, our ad says that our new camera exposes itself automatically!

People in the translation industry are certainly aware of the problem, and resolving it would certainly create a lot of work for a lot of people… but would also deduct from the bottom line of the manufacturers, and that has always seemed to be the driving factor.

Automation has affected a lot of industries for good and for ill. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, many trades have been relatively untouched except for better tools and a proliferation of codes and regulations. But thanks to CAT tools* and the Internet, the translation industry has been radically transformed from a field where educated professionals could seek out high-quality clients and agencies vied to find high-quality translators into an absolute circus where millions of people in third-world countries offer abysmal services for 3¢ per word and agencies expect the lifelong journeymen and journeywomen to meet these kinds of prices (with concomitant reductions for repeated text, of course.)

The professional translators who have been willing to buy the tools and deal with the agencies to stay in their field have my undying respect; I got out of the circus years ago as a way to make a living.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


*Computer-Assisted Translation tools. This is the only CAT tool I still have:

20161209 Sensei Helping.jpg

And, frankly, he’s not much help in the work arena, but he does a world of good for my heart.

Here’s to the crazy ones – and to the creators of the campaign.

Recently I posted this image over at Facebook:

77e93b96856f2692806beb5c95fa0b7f

At once I began to get pushback on the source, so I thought I’d do a bit of digging – and what I found was interesting.

One thing is certain – the quote was part of Apple’s “Think Different” campaign. There were two versions of the commercial, one voice-overed by Steve Jobs himself (this one never aired):

And the one that actually hit the airwaves, with Richard Dreyfuss as the narrator:

But who actually wrote the text?

Not Jack Kerouac: “Sometimes attributed to Kerouac on the internet, perhaps because it evokes his famous quote from On the Road: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” ” (Wikiquote)

Not John Chapman, aka “Johnny Appleseed“: If you look closely at the Text Edit icon in Apple’s OS X, you’ll see the the quote there in the form of a letter to “Kate” from “John Appleseed.”

Text Edit

This has led some to attribute the quote to Chapman himself, which is just all wrong – the language is never something that the historical Johnny Appleseed would have used; on a side note of interest, this article at the Smithsonian suggests that Chapman was planting apples for hard liquor, not for eating.

“Apple cider provided those on the frontier with a safe, stable source of drink, and in a time and place where water could be full of dangerous bacteria, cider could be imbibed without worry.”

So who is the John Appleseed referred to in the icon, and who is Kate?

Not John Appleseed, the shadowy “Apple Insider:” This article at Techradar gives the background on who John Appleseed was – a Cupertino-based software developer who had developed Apple II software under his own name. When Apple’s CEO Mike Markkula (also a coder) developed some Apple II software under the pseudonym John Appleseed, the real Appleseed didn’t sue – he launched a campaign to meet Steve Jobs, as described in the article. Ultimately Appleseed’s image and name became the face of the iPhone and other products, although he was never really an “Apple Insider.”

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Unfortunately for him, Jobs died, Apple evolved, and his usefulness as a mascot came to an end. As for Kate? Best guess is that she’s an open source text editor in KDE in the linux operating system. It is possible that during his time of interfacing with Steve Jobs, some of Appleseed’s ideas may have insinuated them into Jobs’ consciousness to have an impact later.

Yes, it was John Siltanen and Lee Clow (and a few others): John Siltanen chronicled the real genesis of the campaign’s text in an article at Forbes (caution: Forbes now makes you whitelist their site if you have AdBlock Plus installed, which I happen to think is a scummy move – but there it is.) Siltanen and Lee Clow were employed by the TBWA/Chiat/Day advertising agency that were shooting to get Apple’s business for a new campaign. The whole article is a fascinating first-person look at how the campaign was designed, pitched, and won.

Some of the original thoughts behind the text in question came from these quotes from “Dead Poet’s Society,” among others:

“We must constantly look at things in a different way. Just when you think you know something, you must look at it in a different way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try. Dare to strike out and find new ground.”

“Despite what anyone might tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

“We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. Poetry, beauty, love, romance. These are what we stay alive for. The powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?”

So even though the text was really a collaborative effort, at the end Lee Clow made sure that Steve Jobs’ name was included in the credits on the campaign. As a result, I’m going with “Correct Attribution by Association” on the authorship of the quote.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Philippe Kahn, Prophet

I was on site in 1986, the year Philippe Kahn, CEO of Borland, had the temerity to say in the midst of a crowd of Mac enthusiasts in San Francisco, that the Macintosh was a piece of shit.  That took a lot of gumption; I’m reminded of the scene in The Patriot where Mel Gibson walks into a bar and shouts, “God save the King,” exiting hastily in front of a cloud of knives and axes.

He was wrong then.

128k-macintosh

The 128K Mac was a thing of beauty and innovation (at least for folks who had not been inside the Palo Alto Research Center.) It introduced the world to the concept of a real graphical user interface, and made things possible in the world of graphics, sound, fonts, gaming, design, music, and artwork that would never have been possible in the IBM world – even by adding a dozen cards – more so as the machine morphed into faster and colorized versions. Dark Castle, HyperCard™, designable fonts, MIDI, user-accessible resources… they were all so fun!

The beautiful 1988 Battle Chess game by MacPlay riffed on the biggest disadvantage at the time – the price differential. “Pawn takes King” has the pawn whip out a Macintosh Price List, whereupon the king suffers a fatal coronary.

pawn-takes-king

Flop for flop, the Macintosh machines were about half again as costly as a comparable IBM device, and remain so to this day – but back then the “coolness” factor was enough to overcome that little annoyance. From 1984 until about 1990, I was a devotee.

But Kahn was just 30 years too early.

My wife has an iPod, and years ago one of her kids gave her an iTunes gift card for some music. So we had to set up an AppleID for her to be able to use it. Hold that thought.

Recently she acquired an iPad from her mother, and it was necessary to switch ownership of the pad to her account. Hold that thought.

For about six months last year, I worked for a cloud storage company as a tech support agent, and with remote tools I delved into a lot of Mac systems while I helped customers with their tech issues.

From the experiences I had trying to navigate the Apple environment to resolve what should have been the simplest of problems, I can safely go on record as saying that the Mac world is a place of overpriced, underpowered hardware, combined with a byzantine tangle of AppleIDs, iTunes (an abomination of desolation if ever I saw one, a heavy-handed store thinly disguised as an impossibly cumbersome media management tool), iCloud, Photo Library, and other bits and pieces which form a virtual nightmare to navigate. For Mogg’s sake, they even make you create an account to look at their help forums. And when you try to do that, you hit a brick wall.

applehqiz

My Username is OK. I agreed to the Agreement. “Please check the form for details” shows virtually no additional information. Thanks, Apple.

dongles

Add to this some recent technology decisions that seem difficult to fathom, including a plethora of dongles, the removal of a standard audio jack, and those easily-lost wireless earbuds, and it makes me wonder why anyone would go with Apple hardware any longer. For the longest time a relative imperviousness to viruses and malware was a big draw, but that era has ended, and there’s not much a Mac can do that a PC can’t, and for about 60% of the price. The “coolness” factor is just not there any longer.

a_very_long_flight

It’s been a long time since I’ve been religiously attached to any hardware or operating system. I’ve used so many, it’s basically “whatever gets the job done.” But for a brief period, the Mac was really a wonderful, dazzling, entertaining and useful new thing. Today, I’m pretty convinced that the company has lost its way and its vision when it comes to computers. I don’t hate Apple; I’m really hoping they can turn themselves around. If they don’t, it’s a sure bet that somewhere in the future, another Steve Jobs is waiting.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Make a Translator Mad in Four Words

From a recent Facebook post. Having worked as a freelance translator, these responses spoke to my soul. Yes, a few of them are more than four words, but they’re all good – and they’re all real. I have seen many of these myself.

For what it’s worth, I no longer do this sort of work. The reasons will become obvious. I’ve included a bit of commentary here and there.

Cheap bastards

Agencies make money by charging high rates to clients and paying low rates to translators, reviewers, and proofreaders. They’re always jockeying for a better deal. That’s the nature of business, but when you’re an independent contractor, and your standard rate (calculated to earn you a living) is always being undercut, it’s frightfully annoying. The global access of the Internet means that professional, trained, educated translators must now compete with millions of people in India, China, and elsewhere who “speak a little English” and who are willing to work for 1¢ per word or less.

  • Best lowest rate required.
  • What’s your best rate?
  • Make your best rate.
  • Make me (a) good price.
  • Send your best rate.
  • We pay in visibility. (Visibility and $7.95 will get you a coffee at Starbucks.)
  • Our budget is limited. (So I’m supposed to subsidize your profit, right?)
  • Special rates apply to this client. (He’s paying us less, so we’re going to pay you less.)
  • A discount for volume. (We’re paying less because there’s a lot of work).
  • It’s the market rate. (Take it or leave it.)
  • 5¢ is not bad. (5¢ per word is shit.)
  • The others charge less. (Good, feel free to use them.)
  • Someone charges way less.
  • Our budget is only …
  • National Agreement Rate Please.
  • Could you proofread instead? (Read: Your rate is too high).

Cheaper bastards

Machine translation used to be cumbersome, expensive, and not very effective. Now it’s quick, easy, free, and only a bit more effective. While statistical translation models have made some exciting progress, people who don’t understand the intricacies of language assume that online translation is both free and reliable. Similarly, your neighbor may speak a bit of German, but don’t expect your translation to do well in the commercial arena. In the translation world, you still get what you pay for, and if you go cheap, you’re likely to get crap.

  •  Google Translate is cheaper.
  • We will Google translate.
  • I’ll do it myself.
  • I can do it myself.
  • Neighbour can do it.
  • Will it cost anything?
  • Is it for free?
  • That much? No way!
  • The font was wrong. (Followed by “Will you accept 50%?”)
  • I could do it, but…
  • Could do it myself, but…
  • You’re overpaid.

Cheapest bastards

It’s not uncommon for an unethical agency to get a job, break it up into 20 segments, offer the job to 20 translators and have them each do part of the work as a “test,” then award the bid to nobody.

  • Please do this test.
  • Please complete test assignment.
  • We require (a) free test.
  • Test translation without charge.
  • Download the test translation.
  • It’s for a tender. (We need your free translation to make the bid.)

Scheduling headaches

Contractors spend a lot of time juggling their resources against customer needs. Agencies don’t care.

  • We’d like it for tomorrow.
  • Have you begun yet?
  • Great, don’t proceed yet.
  • Client brought deadlines forward.
  • The client sent changes.
  • The client made changes.
  • 6000 words for tomorrow.
  • 20,000 words of light postediting.
  • We need it yesterday.
  • Can you deliver early?
  • Sorry, client cancelled assignment.
  • End client just cancelled.
  • Please send your invoice (then we’re going to have minor changes).
  • File should arrive midnight. (Deadline in 8:00 AM, of course.)
  • We have a glossary (10 minutes before deadline).
  • That didn’t need translating… (After you’ve spent a day and a half on “that.”)
  • Please use US English. (Halfway through a huge project meant to be in UK English!).
  • Please deliver tomorrow morning.
  • Translate in real time! (What does this even mean?)
  • Client isn’t in a hurry (Followed, 2 months later, by “Client needs it ASAP”).
  • The project is cancelled (in the morning of due date!).

Your skills are worthless!

Anyone can translate. It’s just typing in another language.

  • (It doesn’t need to be translated,) just type this in Portuguese
  • Everyone can do it!
  • So you teach English?
  • You’re a translator? Then why don’t you give English courses?
  • What is your work?
  • Please do the shopping.
  • Go get the kids.
  • Don’t think, just translate!
  • What’s your real job?
  • Do you also teach?
  • You have done nothing.

Technical Headaches

“You need to use our tools, yours are garbage.”

  • Trados is a must.
  • TRANSIT is a must.
  • Across is a must.
  • [Insert CAT tool name of choice] is a must.
  • Use our online TM-tool.
  • We only use Excel. (Translating in Excel is a nightmare, if you were wondering.)
  • Please translate into Excel.
  • Your file doesn’t open.

Not only that, in the world of translation, these CAT (Computer-assisted translation tools) are de rigeur. They can be useful in speeding up translation and improving terminological consistency, but agencies routinely take advantage of this and pay less than the full rate for things that the software has translated for you. This ignores the fact that the translator is responsible for the coherence of the entire job and must read and evaluate every bit and piece of the work for accuracy. This alone is the major reason I stepped out of the freelance translation world. My rate per target word is X¢, period. Pay it or go somewhere else. Translators who survive in the industry pretty much have to suck it up, but I wasn’t willing.

  • We don’t pay repetitions.
  • Pro-rated for fuzzy match.
  • 100% matches for free.
  • Discount for fuzzies applied.
  • Fractional Payment for Repetitions.

Payment Headaches

In the US, standard terms are 30 days net. Around the world, it’s not uncommon for translation agencies to expect translators to wait 60, 90, or even up to 180 days for payment of invoices (they usually claim that they’re waiting for their clients to pay them.) This is unethical in the extreme, but not an uncommon strategy in the business world.

dt080613dt080614

There’s one more I can’t find, where the vendor says, “But if you pay us late we’ll go bankrupt, and then you won’t ever have to… pay… I’ve said too much, haven’t I?” The Pointy-Haired Boss just sits there with a sick grin on his face.

  • We forgot your payment.
  • Did you send your invoice? (Yes, I did, 60 days ago.)
  • Net forty-five days.
  • The payment will delay.
  • Thanks for your patience. (After payment was delayed for a month).
  • Check’s in the mail. (Yes, people still use this one.)
  • Our accountant on vacation.

We know better than you.

Never mind your skills, the next person is always smarter.

  • Reviewer says you failed.
  • Is “the” necessary here?
  • Let me correct that.
  • I speak two languages.
  • (S)he knows better.
  • (S)he is a [language] teacher.
  • Proofreader does not agree. (Proofreaders know bupkis about translation.)
  • Changes made by proofreader.
  • My secretary edited it.
  • This translation is bad.
  • But Google translate says…

Creepy Clients

There is always one.

  • What are you wearing?

General Lies

“I have read and agree to the terms of service”

  • It’s a straightforward text.
  • It’s a piece of cake.
  • It’s short and easy.
  • It is not technical.
  • It’s not very technical.
  • Help me, it’s quick.
  • It only needs editing.
  • Just a quick question.

Translation Requirements, and Stupid Questions

Things that don’t fall into easily-defined categories.

  • Do you translate books?
  • Is Brexit affecting business?
  • Source text is JPG. (This means you can’t use your CAT tools for the job.)
  • It’s a PDF – handwritten.
  • Translate in sticky notes.
  • It’s mainly doctors’ handwriting.
  • Please check additional references.
  • (We know you’re busy but) we’re really shorthanded.
  • Here’s an XBench report.
  • It was machine translated.
  • Added to our database. (Don’t call us, we’ll call you.)
  • Read 50 pages of instructions (for a 100-word job)
  • Keep the original format.
  • You have to cook.
  • It’s a doctor’s prescription.
  • Don’t go into details.
  • Thanks for sharing.
  • Are you still translating?
  • Complete our six forms.
  • There’s no source text. (When proofreading a translation, you need to see the original text. If it’s not there, you’re just basically making wild guesses in the dark.)

About 30 years ago, an ad appeared on the bulletin board of the translation software company I was working at. It probably came from one of the trade publications, and showed a boss ripping an employee a new one. The text read, “Because you had your brother-in-law do the translation, our  ad says that our new camera exposes itself automatically!”

I’ve dealt with the risks of translation on the cheap before, and in this one thing has not changed: If you want good translations for your business, use a professional and pay them well – otherwise your product may just bite the wax tadpole.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

“Boom?”

And therein lies a tale.

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The above photo, found at reddit, illustrates he beginning of the construction of the Empire State Building in 1930. The top half of the image shows steam shovels carving away a hole for the foundation. Since Manhattan’s bedrock, ideally suited for the foundations of large skyscrapers, is closer to the surface in midtown and by the Battery, blasting was used to move that rock out of the way. (Historical note: the theory that this bedrock depth was responsible for the clustering of skyscrapers in those areas is giving way to other economy-based theories).

The procedure for this blasting was to drill holes in the rock face, have steam shovels cover up the area to be cleared with huge blankets made of twisted steel cables at least 1″ in diameter, and let fly. The resounding “whump!” was audible for blocks. The blankets were then removed, and the rubble cleared away by Mike Mulligan, Mary Jane, and friends. I loved watching this process as a kid, and construction companies would put windows in the walls around the building site so that rubberneckers could enjoy the spectacle. I was grateful to see these photos, as clear pictures of the process are difficult to find.

Earlier in life, however, there was a downside.

When I was about two, my parents lived in an apartment on Madison in the 90s. My room was next to the kitchen. One day I remember wandering into the darkened kitchen and beginning to play (I’m sure I had been forbidden to touch!) with the gas stove. It was cool to turn the knobs and watch the flame come on, and then turn them off and watch the blue fire dance around the burners before going out.

Remember this was in the early 50s: the oven had no automatic lighter, but you had to turn it on and stick a match down a hole in front to ignite the burner. I, however, knew nothing of that – all I know is that I must have turned that central knob, and when nothing happened, go back to the other four. However, the oven was filling up with gas, and the next time I turned on a burner, the inevitable happened.

With a roar, the gas-filled oven exploded. I was saved from serious injury by the fact that the oven door was taller than I was… when it blew open, it hit me on the forehead and I lost the front of my hair and my eyebrows, gathering a significant cut in the process, but my face and body were protected from the flames by the door itself.

I’m sure my parents were scared spitless, and relieved that I handn’t been killed outright. But my mother reported to me later in life that for a long time thereafter, when one of those construction blasts went off, my eyes would get as big as saucers, and I’d look at her, and ask “Boom?”

To this day I still don’t respond well to loud noises or being startled. I wonder if there’s a residual effect going on there? The most accurate of all Sun Microsystems “fortune” lines, at least for me, is “You will be surprised by a loud noise.”

Works every time.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

Do it yourself: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

About 15 years ago I bought this Braun shaver, and it served me well for at least 15 years. The rechargeable batteries finally wore out, and I wondered if it would be worth trying to replace them myself rather than pay an appliance repairman ten prices for the privilege.

How to open it? I found a totally useless article on eHow (typical of all these crowdsourced answer sites like WikiHow, FixYa, Yahoo! Answers, and so many others – the blind leading the rutting blind) and then figured out how to get the thing open myself. Once you do, getting to the guts is pretty easy – and the little electronic board with the batteries pops right out. Nice German engineering.

I bought a couple of new NiMH rechargeables, and set about replacing them. The beggar was that those batteries were not soldered to the board, the were spot-welded at the contact points… but with some careful work I was able to get them out.

Popped the new batteries in, and the whole board started to smoke and melt.

Crap. I must have put the new batteries in backwards or something. I thought I was doing it right.

20150415_164000

RIP Braun – It’s the component in the front that really lit up – what looks like burning under the left battery is just residue from the original adhesive.

So this particular attempt at DIY didn’t work out so well… but that’s how I learn. Over the last half-century, I’ve assembled enough handyman skills to install a bathroom into a totally unfinished space, and all of that experience came from just jumping in and doing it. I made mistakes along the way, but these days most things go pretty smoothly.

So I had to run out and get a new Braun (I feel very loyal to that brand, I’ve been using good Braun shavers since 1974, the first one bought in Austria) and hopefully this one will last me at least 15 years, by which time I’ll get my grandkids to buy me a new one for Christmas, so I won’t have to try this particular experiment again.

I’m sure there will be others.

The Old Wolf has spoken.


PS: Ah, the luscious smell of burning silicon…