Thursday, January 28, 2010

My sentiments exactly...

I just saw this, and really had to post it here, since it reflects my sentiments, exactly!

Anyway, it's the famous SF writer Harlan Ellison. Unlike me, he's really famous and well-known. And still he faces such issues...

See what he has to say about the situation: here's the video.

Warning: some strong language in that video, so probably NSFW....

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Future has Arrived

... but it may not be what everyone told you it would be.

It's already here, and it looks more like the "Matrix" than the "Star Trek".

I think that we are all slowly beginning to realize that the new technologies are not really what they're cracked up to be. We don't really live any better than we did before the Twitter or Google.

Perhaps the new techologies do make some things easier (communication, for example), but, on the other hand, they ultimately tend to change your life for the worse.

Let's not kid ourselves here: the driving force behind the advance of technology is not the desire to make life easier or better for everyone.

It's greed.

It's greed and exploitation that "make things happen". And, in the end, we always somehow feel betrayed in our expectations - the technology hasn't really changed anything that matters, has it?

It's because we had wrong expectations, I'd say. We somehow forget that we should only expect the worst from anything new, and it's because we're so gullible: we allow ourselves to get dazzled by the marketing hype, expecting the new gadget or technology to bring us closer to Nirvana somehow, or the brotherhood of men, whatever...

Well, the inspiration for such grim thoughts is that recently I learned about a new movie, called "Sleep Dealer", by the director Alex Rivera.

It's characterized as a kind of "Sci-Fi/techno thriller" or something. I came across it on "Wired", and on that link you can learn something about the movie, if you haven't heard about it already. It's not your usual run-of-the-mill dystopian downer, but a very thought-provoking movie, from what I've seen and read (haven't seen it yet, but I will as soon as it gets to cinemas here....).

Another movie I saw recently is a French documentary, done by Canal+, called "Les forçats du Cybermonde" ("Slave Labour of the Cyberworld" or the "Serfs of the Cyberspace", whichever you prefer - I'm not really competent for translating from French). Look it up.

That documentary is actually devastating, and it raised a lot of hubub on the local newsgroups when it was aired on local TV less than a month ago. The point is that the grim "near future" depicted in Rivera's "Sleep Dealer" is already here. There are millions of serfs toiling on the Internet, making the big corporations even richer than they are already. The big guns are getting the service/work done, without any obligations, any contracts, any strings attached. It's a Friedmanesque capitalist paradise...

Another (unexpected) link that turned out in my readings is this one. Forbes magazine, of all places...

So, what's the point of this rant, you might ask?

Well, the problem is that I'm beginning to feel like a serf myself, and can easily identify with those Chinese (or Mexican, in Rivera's movie) slave labourers. Relatively recently I was offered a "big" translation job by a translation agency, with the end client being none other than G****. Needles to say, the wages offered were serf-like (about 40% of the usual going rates for such kind of work). The argument: "Well, this is G****, and those are the rates they offer. It's a big client, and we have to adapt." Well, I told them I didn't care if it was George Bush himself (that was before Obama won the elections, I think...). I expect a fair payment for the kind of (professional) work I do.

I also told them that it's no wonder their ( G****'s) web site in my language sucks - it reads like it was written by a first-grader. No - strike that. It reads like it was written by the village idiot. No wonder, given how much G**** is willing to pay for translation... Or perhaps it was the unfortunate product of "crowdsourcing". After all, "crowdsourcing" is G****'s idea, if I'm not mistaken... :)

So, there you go. We're not that far from those Chinese sweatshops, after all, are we?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

What Lies Ahead?

Recession seems to be the new buzzword. For people in our industry (translation, localization, globalization), it's not just a buzzword, but a fact of life.

The business is slowing down, and for some of us it's almost grinding to a halt. What will the future bring?

The majority of my work in the past few years has been connected to mobile technologies (mobile phones, mobile operators, user manuals for various gadgets, etc.). It's been a steady source of work and income, but the emerging crisis has me thinking - and thinking hard.

The work is already slowing down seriously, and thinking about it, I need to reconsider my position and try to get my bearings in a new situation.

The mobile industry is probably going to be hurt by the crisis - and probably quite hard. If you think about it, you don't have to be clairvoyant to predict the future.

In a crisis, people always cut their spending - beginning with non-essential (luxury) expenses. If you consider that the mobile industry has been thriving for some time selling products and services which are simply "gadgets" (think of MMS, live chat, etc.), and that the mobile phone manufacturers survive simply by producing more and more items that actually sell "lifestyle", you can naturally expect that, once the "lifestyle" balloon pops, the sales will drop, and the cutting of costs will begin.

Who needs a new mobile phone/gadget every three months, anyway? I still have a mobile phone I got four years ago, and it still works OK. (I had to buy a new battery, though....)

So, the sales will drop, and the manufacturers will try to cut costs any way they can. The funds from the quality assurance (read: better localization and translation) will be diverted to even more aggressive marketing. The result: less work for me. I can already tell you that the financial results for mobile phone manufacturers in the next quarter will show a lot of red numbers....

(BTW, for those of you who have invested in mobile technologies, you might consider selling those shares, if it's not already too late....)

In my area, I can also expect to receive more and more "Chinglish" source material, since the "big players" will turn to cheaper and cheaper sources of the products they sell. There will be a lot of pressure on me to lower the rates, too.

In general, it's a natural progression of the trend I have seen and predicted in a way ever since Trados became the de facto industry standard. "Google Translate" is the next big step. "Crowdsourcing" was the next idea. In short, the role of a good translator is becoming less and less important - the end result being that our work is less and less appreciated and valued - and paid less.

For the past several years I've seen that I have to work more and more, provide more value (besides "translation" I need to provide DTP, consulting, etc...) for the same price. I have not raised my rates in the past 7 years - and have been forced to work more and more just to keep the income at the same level.

So, it would be foolish not to reconsider my options for the future. As a head of a small translation agency, I don't have the "muscle" to compete with the likes of SDL or Lionbridge. I can turn to domestic market, but the crisis is evident there, too. Simply put, in the times of economic crisis, translation is seen as a luxury, a non-essential cost. There's less work, and it's being done at cutthroat rates.

Right now, I'm considering how to make a living in troubled times. I already have a "test bed" project, which has absolutely nothing to do with translation, and we'll see what happens in the next 2-3 months, once the project takes off. Maybe I'll switch careers, who knows?

What are you doing about it?


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

More Photography-related Stuff

I see that a few people still read this blog - which comes as a complete surprise to me :)

It was mostly a way of therapy for me, something I could do about all the things that make me mad in my everyday work. But, it sure is nice to have some kind of feedback.

Anyway, I promised some photos from my visit to Paris in March this year. Like I said, with all the work and daily frustrations, I tend to forget that there's more to life than work. So, after seeing Venice for the first time in my life in February, I decided that I could travel some more. Less than a month later, I went to Paris for couple of days, with a friend who translates from and into French. A Francophone, he's been to Paris many times, and he was an ideal guide.

We ate well, and drank very good wine. Paris is expensive, but is worth it. My advice: wear comfortable shoes, walk a lot, and by all means visit Place des Vosges...

Being an analog photographer, I just had to take a funky medium-format camera with me: a Holga. I just got it from a friend a couple of weeks before that, and this was the first time I actually shot with it. I got a couple of usable shots :)

So, here are a couple of Holga shots - from Paris, for a change :)

The last one should actually be No. 1, since for me it was the most important place to see: Pere Lachaise cemetery, and the resting place of the Lizard King himself... James Douglas Morrison. I had to pay homage. This was THE place I had to visit - everything else was less important.

Monday, September 15, 2008

There's more to Life than Work

My rants are getting rather irregular... I even thought about deleting this blog.

I mean, there's only so many things you can get upset about in our line of work. Poor pay, being treated as a glorified "secretary", having to do a meaningful translation from a patchwork of machine-combined texts, working with poorly designed proprietary software...

And I already wrote about the majority of my gripes.

The situation just goes worse. I'm being offered lower and lower rates, and being asked to do more of the impossible.

So, I thought I'd write about something else, for a change.

BTW, I also do other things in life besides translating. My main hobby is photography, and I do it the "old way" - using film. I also have a small permanent darkroom at home (actually, a converted storage under the stairs), and this hobby often keeps my "creative juices" flowing.

You know what a darkroom is? Like, what you see in Hollywood movies when a photographer goes to a kind of bathroom, and turns on a red light, and then does some magic involving trays with chemicals and stuff, and in the end hangs B&W photos to dry...

That's me, in a nutshell :)

I feel that the work I do for a living is meaningless. After all, translating mobile phone manuals isn't what you'd call artistic and fulfilling, isn't it?

So, my photography is a kind of "vent" I use when my "artistic urge" attacks... Traditional (film-based) photography is demanding. It does not have instant feedback - meaning you can't see the photo the instant after you press the shutter button. It requires discipline, and a lot of technical knowledge. And I do all the work myself. I develop the film, and later enlarge the photos myself in my darkroom. It's slow work, and sometimes it takes me several hours to get only 3-4 good B&W prints. But, it's relaxing in a way. I feel like an ancient alchemist sometimes. And, when I have a satisfactory print (which isn't that often), I can really say that it is my work - from the moment I pressed the shutter until the final print is framed (or stored away in a box, doesn't really matter).

A piece of ME is in that photo, and that photo wouldn't exist if it wasn't for me. There is no pressing of keyboard buttons, no computer screens, no hi-tech mumbo-jumbo involved. I could even do it without electricity. In a way, it's a craft, and like all good craftsmen, I'm proud of my craft. There's a piece of me in every one of my photos. And, unlike the work that I do for a living, it satisfies me on a much deeper level.

Besides, it is something tangible, something I can frame and hang on a wall, or simply put it away in a box with other photos.

So, without further ado, I present one of my photos. Not the best one, or the one I like the most. Just one I picked from my stash, almost randomly.

It's a photo taken in one of the most magical places you could ever hope to visit. And I've visited it earlier this year, in February, when I realized there's more to life than sitting in front of a computer screen :)

In case you can't guess from the photo, it's in Venice - in front of the entrance to Arsenale.

Several weeks after my visit to Venice, I decided I might as well visit Paris. :) Heck, you only live once!

So, I'll end this on a lighter, more optimistic note (which is quite unlike me): don't forget there's more to life than work. And if your work doesn't satisfy you, find a hobby that will :)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Nothing New under the Sun

It's been a long time since I posted anything.

What's the use, anyway? I'm just getting all worked up, foaming at the mouth, and nothing changes.

So, what's been going on in the meantime?

Nothing really new.

The translation jobs I'm getting are getting worse, the quantity of Chingrish is on the rise... :)

And the rates I'm offered are getting lower and lower.

Just recently I've been trying to expand my business locally, and approached a well-known large-scale importer and wholesaler of IT equipment, offering my translation and prepress (DTP) services.

Like all the importers, they are legally bound to provide translated user manuals for everything they import and sell.

Initial contacts were promising, I sent samples of my work, they liked it.

However, when initial contacts and presentations were done and we moved to prices, I was in for the shock of my life!

They calmly told me that they are currently paying about $7 per page for translation AND DTP (?!)

FYI, the usual going rate for typists is about $1 per page - that's just for typing a page of text :)

And the absolutely cheapest DTP per page that I managed to find locally is about $5...

That leaves us with what - about $3-$4 per page (approx. 250 words) of translation, at best?

Oh, yes, and they openly admitted that they do not pay through the usual channels and in the usual (legal) way (invoice plus VAT), but they only pay through student service contracts - meaning I'd have to find someone who has a status of a student, so that payment could be made that way. It's blatantly illegal practice (tax evasion), but it was take it or leave it proposition.

Of course, I did not take the offer - it's about 20% of my lowest possible rate, and, besides, I don't have the slightest intention of operating illegally...

However, it seems that's the usual practice around here :(

To be honest, the stuff they get for those prices just proves that you get what you pay for ;)


Friday, January 11, 2008

A (short) break...

I haven't posted in a while - after all, it was the holiday season, and a time to think about other things besides business :)

Before the holidays I was too busy translating, and after that, I spent some quality time with my family.

I'll be back soon - that's a promise!