Tip of the Tongue
Courting disaster – Why poor quality and use of machine translation are serious legal issues
Sun, 28 Feb 2021 06:41:00 +0000



A post in JurTrans shared an article by John Shea entitled A cautionary tale about machine translation: a recent Polish court ruling. As a longtime professional translator, I was pleased to see a legal bottom being laid in the rather deep hole of cheap translations, in both meanings of the word cheap. The case itself is rather extreme and involves a single language service provider (LSP), but is relevant to all parties in the translation chain: translators, agencies and end customers. The bottom line is that there is a financial price for ignoring quality to achieve a low price.

The incident, which occurred in 2013, involves a company that ordered the translation of a technical booklet (IT) from Polish to English from an agency, which contracted a supposedly professional translator to carry out the project. Interestingly enough, the company itself approved the specific translator after viewing a sample of his writing. The individual had excellent high school English and was studying IT in college but had no translation experience nor was an expert it in the field. He produced a translation that, by his own admission, besides being delivered late, was 92% machine translated using Google Translate with insufficient post machine translation editing with the remaining 8% MT not receiving any editing at all. The company did not find the result satisfactory and requested and received review and amendment but ultimately was forced  to pay a real professional translator to do the job properly. The agency, rather full of chutzpah (gall), then demanded payment from the company for the job not so well done. The Polish court rejected its request and required it to pay legal fees.

The court discussed several issues but I would like to mention three aspects relevant to all in the translation business. First, while the term “professional translator” may lack a single coherent definition, it can be defined, albeit by elimination, and is of legal importance. With the exception of a few countries, translators are not licensed by any authority. A few professional associations, notably the American Translators Association, certify translators using tests or other objective criteria but technically speaking, anybody can hang a shingle claiming that they are professional translators. In practice, most translators have degrees in a language or a professional area and significant experience in translation and/or a technical field. In other words, they have knowledge of how to transmit specific information accurately from one language to another. This skill is not shared by the vast majority of high school or even college students, no matter how intelligent, hard working or well-read they may be as the knowledge and skill required to produce a proper translation takes many years to acquire. People, even long-term translators, that are unable to properly express the content of specific source document into target documents may be considered unprofessional in the specific circumstances. Thus, any false representation as such in regards to a specific document may be a breach of contract with its attendant consequences.

On a related issue, the relative cost of a translation does not cancel the implied warranty of merchantability. In simple terms, even if the payment is very low, the translator and agency are responsible for producing a usable product. There may be an emotional attraction to the expression “you get what you pay for” but legally and practically it does not hold up. If employees working for minimum wage (or less even) fail to do their job properly, they are fired. Likewise, regardless of the bottom barrel rates being paid by some agencies, a translator that has accepted them must provide at minimum an adequate product or risk truly working for nothing or worse. On a more serious level, as the rates offered by the mega LSPs keep on declining, they may find themselves in the situation faced by the agency in this case. The court specifically stated the agency has the legal duty to supervise the quality of a translation to ensure its usefulness. Both translators and agencies need to keep this requirement to produce a useful product in mind.

Finally, according to the court ruling, use of public machine translation sites can be a breach of the confidentiality condition of a contract. The issue here is not the quality of machine translation, which has radically improved in the 9 years since the decision. However, the mere act of a translator placing text in a public machine translation service such as but not limited to Google Translate has the effect of putting the content in the public domain, a breach of contract in many cases. Even more so today, it is very tempting to insert problematic section into machine translation for reasons of amusement, curiosity or need. According to the court decision, the translator must be aware of the legal ramifications especially if identifying data has not been removed. Clearly, for general expressions, public online help of all kinds is common and acceptable. The issues arise when exact specifications are entered. Ignorance of the law is not a defense. Translators must think before they insert.

I have presented a brief summary of the original longer article by John O’Shea, a bit like concentrated broth. As in all matters legal and medical, for a complete picture, it is always advisable to read the whole article. In my understanding from both the article and my legal studies, translators and LSPs need to fully understand the express and implied warranties they provide to the customers and comply with them, including in regards to professional status, translation quality and confidentiality. A word to the wise is sufficient.

*The blind need captions to full access your content. 

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/artsybeekids-392631/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5660494">Venita Oberholster</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5660494">Pixabay</a>

Transatlantic transformation - French and American music in translation
Sun, 21 Feb 2021 06:43:00 +0000

[Twins in a wagon*]

The flight from New York to Paris is a few hours long but upon arriving, you feel in a different world whether because of the architecture or the jet lag. The French and Americans, who have had a lengthy love affair since Lafayette and Alexis de Tocqueville, often expressed an appreciation of each other’s music. In some cases, the songs have been imported as is,  such as the songs of Elvis Presley in French and Edith Piaf in English. In other cases, while the music remained the same, the words took on a completely different meaning, even texture, a bit like physically identical twins with different personalities. As a small sampling, I will look at two well-known songs, My Way, Frank Sinatra’s signature song, and the Little Drummer Boy, the classic Christmas classic, known as Comme D’habitude and l’Enfant de Tambour in France.

Claude François and Jacques Revaux wrote a song entitled “Comme D’habitude”, meaning As I always do,in 1967, which was then originally transformed and sang in English by Paul Anka but made famous by Frank Sinatra. While the melodies are identical, the words express entirely different situations and feelings:

Comme D’habitude [link]

My Way [link]

Je me lève

And now the end is here

Et je te bouscule

And so I face that final curtain

Tu ne te réveilles pas

My friend I'll make it clear

Comme d'habitude

I'll state my case, of which I'm certain

Sur toi je remonte le drap

I've lived a life that's full

J'ai peur que tu aies froid

I traveled each and every highway

Comme d'habitude

And more, much more

Ma main caresse tes cheveux

I did it, I did it my way

Presque malgré moi


Comme d'habitude

Regrets, I've had a few

Mais toi tu me tournes le dos

But then again too few to mention

Comme d'habitude

I did what I had to do

Et puis je m'habille très vite

I saw it through without exemption

Je sors de la chambre

I planned each charted course

Comme d'habitude

Each careful step along the byway

Tout seul je bois mon café

And more, much, much more

Je suis en retard

I did it, I did it my way

Comme d'habitude


Sans bruit je quitte la maison

Yes, there were times I'm sure you knew

Tout est gris dehors

When I bit off more than I could chew

Comme d'habitude

But through it all, when there was doubt

J'ai froid, je relève mon col

I ate it up and spit it out…

Comme d'habitude…



The French original is a very sad story of a loveless marriage in which everything is done ritually without feeling, even making love. The husband gets up in the morning, pulls up the cover to make sure the wife is warm and caresses her cheek with no reaction besides her turning her back to him. He gets up, drinks his coffee alone and leaves for work. When he returns, she has left for the evening. She returns later after he goes to bed. They have sex. The day begins anew. Yet, he still keeps on functioning “as I always do”. By contrast, the American version is the proud statement and restatement of independence of an older man who takes responsibility for his choices and voices no regrets. He declares that he made his own decisions and willingly paid the price for them. The contrast between the lyrics and emotional feeling they elicit is rather extreme.

In other direction, the American classis Christmas song, The Little Drummer Boy, is credited to Katherine Davis in 1941 but was made famous by the Trapp Singers in 1951. It was transformed into French by Georges Coulonge in 1960 and interpreted by Les Barclay but made famous by Nana Mouskouri. Again, while the melodies are identical, the messages are not the same:

Little Drummer Boy [link]

L’enfant de tambour [link]

Come they told me

Sur la route parapapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum

Petit tambour s'en va parapapampam

A new born king to see

Il sent son coeur qui bat parapapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum

Au rythme de ses pas parapapampam

Our finest gifts we bring

Rapapampam rapapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum

Ô petit enfant parapapampam

To lay before the king

Où vas-tu tarampapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum,


Rum pum pum pum,

Hier mon père parapapampam

Rum pum pum pum,

A suivi le tambour parapapampam

So to honor him

Le tambour des soldats parapapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum

Alors je vais au ciel parapapampam

When we come

Rapapampam rapapampam


Là je veux donner pour son retour

Little baby

Mon tambour tarampapampam

Pa rum pum pum pum


I am a poor boy too

Tous les anges parapapampam

That's fit to give our king….

Ont pris leur beau tambour parapapampam


Et ont dit à l'enfant parapapampam


Ton père est de retour parapapampam


Rapapampam rapapampam


Et l'enfant s'éveille parapapampam


Sur son tambour


Again, the original American version is cheery and inspiring, relating the story of the birth of Jesus, a spiritual. By contrast, the French interpretation tells the sad story of a child playing his drum after his father marched off to war and dreaming of going to heaven where the angels tell him that his father is returning. Sadly, the child wakes up contrast from the dream with his head on the drum. The music is the same but the aftertaste is not.

Each of the versions has its own merits. It is objectively impossible to say if the interpretation was better or worse than the original. However, as these examples how, it is clear that the transatlantic voyage, or any voyage for that matter, can transform music.

* Pictures are important for the blind to access the Internet. Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/greyerbaby-2323/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=757404">lisa runnels</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=757404">Pixabay</a>

Celebrating 60
Sun, 14 Feb 2021 14:27:00 +0000


I recently enjoyed my 60th birthday. While many people find this milestone discouraging or even depressing it, I have relished it. Like Hans Christian Andersen’s ugly duckling, I finally looked in the reflection in the mirror and saw a swan. As a child I was full of curly hair, lacking confidence, very shy and felt socially incompetent. I now recognize that none of that is true although I wish the first one was still relevant. I admit that the current body has a tendency to kvetch (complain) much more often than in the past. Still, I see this age as a wonderful time in terms of how I view myself, how others view me, and how I interact the with world.

The wonderful aspect of time is that provides the opportunity to gain skill and acceptance. By this age, people are very experienced at whatever task they have done for many decades. Their methods may not be the most modern or efficient, but the results speak for themselves. It is possible to state without any pretension that you are good at what you do.  I would even say that I am much skillful now that I was 20 or even 10 years ago. I stand with confidence and act as a leader without effort. The major loss is the ability to properly take on too many tasks as the energy reserve drops. In my case, this is mainly to my advantage as I have always suffered from the inability to sit for long period of time. Therefore, as the Chinese and Japanese know so well, age is a blessing in terms of skill and should be viewed as such.  These facts were probably true in the past but I have finally recognized them.

I also enjoy the entrance in the age of respect.  It is matter of both small and great matters. I find it convenient, even charming, when a “young person” helps me put my valise in the upper rack on the train, as occurred in Poland. or people are more polite with me. Of more importance, my voice seems to have more weight than it did when I was younger and always the youngest in the group. As an aside, I suppose that is why it is annoying to still be treated as the youngest sibling. Furthermore, I am expected to be wise or at least wiser due to my age, a heavy but flattering duty. On the other hand, if I cannot figure some function on my phone, it is not because I am stupid but merely not technologically native, a forgivable crime. I am enjoying my stay in the throne of active, contributing citizen worthy of special consideration.

This decade also releases people from the competition game if they allow themselves to do, of course. Most of our lives, we try to match people’s expectations of our behavior and compare our achievements. The opinions of others are important as it signals what we should be doing to advance ourselves and provides feedback whether we have succeeded in life. At 60, unless through an inheritance, very few people will become significantly wealthier or change their family status. To a large extent, we have attached our highest status in terms of job title, income and children. Therefore, we no longer have to please bosses, potential partners or even not-so-close friends. To a large extent, we can finally be who we are, warts and all. In other words, we are free to interact the world without feeling without fear of hurting our interests, within reason of course.

Thus, as I looked at the reflection in the mirror-like water this January, I saw a contented and successful person that has done well with the cards he was given. Clearly, others have been more successful in one area or another but that comparison was and is irrelevant. In regards to 60, As Frank Sinatra sang, with a small change, it is a very good year.

* Captions are important for blind people. 

Picture from pixabay: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/publicdomainpictures-14/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=18829">PublicDomainPictures</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=18829">Pixabay</a>

Zoom lessons
Sun, 07 Feb 2021 07:04:00 +0000


The first semester of the 2020-2021 is thankfully over. I, like most teachers worldwide, used Zoom from the first day to the last day and never actually met my students. After the shock and confusion of the previous semester, both teachers and students began this semester with awareness of the situation and the understanding of the technology. Thus, an intuitive analysis of this Zoom semester has merit in terms of grasping the impact of Zoom on material selection, student-teacher interaction and student performance.

As a matter of background, I teach advanced English (Levels B2 and C1) to engineering students at the Braude College of Engineering in Karmiel, Israel. I taught two groups of 30 students from all departments. I am thoroughly familiar with the material as I have taught the course for more than a decade. Most of my students are in their first year, with their ages ranging from 19-27. A few of them are even married with one soon becoming a father. They come from all sectors in Israel, including Jewish, Muslim and Muslim as well as native-born and immigrants. Consequently, the background English level is very heterogenous. Despite falling into certain level categories, they have varying degrees of proficiency in specific language skills, with writing generally being the weakest and reading the strongest. Thus, my two groups collectively are a fairly representative.

The limitations of Zoom required an adjustment of the course tasks. First, online teaching does not allow the teacher to see whether students are truly paying attention or learning. For the most part, all see a series of gravestones (names in the grey background) or unclear headshots without facial expressions. Thus, online teaching is like throwing a line in the river and hoping the fish will bite (often with the same success rate). Therefore, explanations were minimized and breakroom session maximized to allow students to actively learn and teachers to better assess actually understanding. Furthermore, it is effectively impossible to prevent students from sharing knowledge during quizzes and tests, especially in regards to objective answers. Consequently, the grading emphasis switched from a statistically important final with an unseen to a minor element involving a seen text with interpretive questions and a writing task. During the semester, more time was invested in writing and, curiously, speaking as they involve individual student activity as compared to general learning. The result for the teachers of the staff was significantly more time work.

Student-teacher interaction on Zoom is defined by the technical limitations that only one person can speak at a time and the time required to get from one break room to another. In a normal classroom, the teacher can ascertain which students wish to participate and encourage others to join them. In Zoom, the first to speak controls the microphone. In practice, I heard very few students while I was in the general group mode, an unacceptable situation in normal times. Moreover, even when I broke them up into small groups, the time and effort required to switch from one room to another is significantly greater than that of moving around a room, where it is also possible to monitor which groups are on task, unlike in Zoom. Given the lack of communication with the vast majority of my students, I invested more time outside the lesson. First, I always opened the session 15 minutes before the start of the lesson and stayed online until the last student left, giving them a chance to ask questions. I also provided much specific feedback on their writing assignments and initiated email where I felt that the students were “out of it” based on their performance. Timely, detailed written feedback partially replaced the personal contact typical of effective teacher-student interaction.

That said, albeit the academic results reflect only one semester, performance was noticeably below the level of previous years. The number of failures was higher but that may be just a statistical anomaly. More seriously, the number of students whose final paragraph reflected a complete or significant lack of comprehension of the course material was unusually high and very distressing to both parties. I had the impression that I truly had been too often teaching to gravestones. Granted it may be one of the causes is my explanations. Also, these students were clearly less advanced having lost most of the previous year. However, it is highly probable that the most important cause is that the 30+ hours that students spend on Zoom, not including their HW, reduces their capacity to absorb, especially given most have none enjoy the reinforcing effect that actual social interaction with their fellow students provide. Not only that, the home environment poses much more threats to their concentration. Clearly, the attention issue must be addressed in some way.

As said, these conclusions are entirely intuitive. Yet, as Zoom will continue to serve as the medium of teaching for the next semester if not longer, it is vital to analyze and strive to overcome the limitations of the tool. These are my Zoom lessons from the previous semester.

* Give access to the blind by providing captions to pictures.

Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=995558">Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=995558">Pixabay</a>

Who’s the boss? – Social media and business users
Sun, 31 Jan 2021 07:36:00 +0000


[Thinking man*]

At an online meetup session sponsored by the ATA Mastermind group, the moderators noted the importance of managing use of social media in terms of proper time investment. Just as in face-to-face meetings, it is neither practical nor healthy to be interacting with people every waking hour of a day. They noted several factors for a healthy presence on social media, including focus, frequency, feeling and effectiveness. Clearly, the ratio of time investment to benefit should be appropriate.

[Upward chart]
Whatever the media, including Facebook, Tweeter, Linked and Instagram, the participant can attain enjoyment, information, work or strategic position. Clearly, people follow certain sites for the pure pleasure of the content, whether it be pictures of cats or jokes about husbands, to name a few that I have heard of. It is perfectly legitimate to start and even end the day with a smile on the face. Information sites are more practical as colleagues are often the fastest source of help in overcoming the challenges of running a business and solving technical mysteries. Many freelancers actively use social media either to advertise their goods and services or find customers, a practice that has only increased in the last year. Finally, for certain services, a constant presence on social media is a key factor in creating and maintaining a market presence. All these results are potential benefits of social media use.

[Media types]
Given the sheer number of media types and forums, it is neither possible nor desirable to be everywhere even if you are a full-time social media director. The ideal strategy is to identify a few forums where your target audience, whether customers, colleagues or both, are found and continually monitor and participate in them. Not only will the time spent managing the media stay reasonable but the long-term benefit will be substantially higher as you become known or you catch the available job minutes after it is posted. Clearly, identifying the ideal forum is partly a matter of trial and error and may need to be assessed periodically. Still, properly directed efforts are a worthwhile investment of time.

Unlike teenagers during the summer vacation, business people generally have too many tasks to accomplish during a day. This fact creates the need for prioritization and scheduling. Social media management is one of these tasks and should be conducted when and how often as required, depending on the goal. Information and marketing can be on once a day without any loss while lead searching is a time-dependent goal and may have to done more frequently to be effective. However, it is clear that a one-minute scan of new posts should not regularly turn into a half hour break because it means that more vital tasks are being postponed. To attain the best results, scheduling a regular time for business media monitoring ensures proper attention without overinvestment of time.

One of the keys to daily and long-term success is positive energy. In other words, people must strive to eliminate any avoidable factor that saps energy. In practice, any site whose content and discussions mainly contain pessimism, hostility and one-upmanship should be avoided as their damage is greater than any benefit they provide. By contrast, forums that professionally and objectively discuss dilemmas help us form an opinion as if we had personally talked with a colleague. Thus, it is vital not only to consider the content of the media but also its tone. As said, since social media is an alternative, albeit a forced one, to face-to-face discussions, always choose positive people even if they disagree with you. You should feel encouraged after a personally social media exchange.

Bull and bear]

The ultimate test of social media time is the benefit attained. The assessment depends on the desired goal. For example, one or two leads a month may justify the time spent monitoring a certain site while it may be necessary to wait a year before reaping the benefits of a long-term marketing campaign. For information sites, an effective and quick solution for a time-consuming problem may justify a regular scan of the posts as it shows that that the site can be beneficial. As for the sites that makes us laugh, the measure is obvious – it makes us smile almost every morning. By contrast, if the site content is generally not relevant for whatever reason, it would be advisable to search for a better forum in terms of the time investment.

Entrepreneurs can utilize social media to improve their business or allow it to sap their time and energy. A conscious decision of how and where to allocate work time leads to effective use of these media for the intended purpose. These choices need to be periodically reassessed as circumstances change. It is vital that the entrepreneurs make active choices and show that they are the boss.

* Pictures allow the blind to fully access the Internet. All picture via Pixabay.

Much ado about nothing – Contemplations to calm the spirit upon seeing low rate offers
Sun, 24 Jan 2021 08:00:00 +0000

[Volkswagon Beetle*]

One of the dubious pleasures of being a service provider, freelance or otherwise, is the all too frequent awareness of colleagues that have no shame in offering very low rates, sometimes 25% of your rates, and undercut your business. In a business with no entry barriers, i.e., significant capital outlays or licensing requirements, any Joe and Jane can hang out a virtual shingle and offer the same service, as least as far as customers can tell. Since the fixed costs of a providing services are virtually zero especially for Internet-based businesses, the breakeven point for such providers is quite low. Thus, these market-breaking bids are legitimate offers.

However, for those professionals trying to make a living over the long term, these offers are both threatening and infuriating. First, the presence of low bids creates the impressions that your rates are unjustifiably high. This dissonance forces established providers either to lower rates or communicate their added value. On an emotional level, seeing a supposed colleague undercut your prices causes anger and frustration. These emotions are expressed in wishes, private or public, to have the guilty party hung at the gallows, exiled to Elba, spend time in a re-education camp in China or tongue-lashed by the principle, to name just a few options. However, the phenomenon of undercutting is as ancient as prostitution and just as indestructible. Thus, I offer some calming thoughts to help the suffering professional accept reality.

[Cup of coffee
The first point in mind that it is possible to earn a very good income with such rates on condition the cost of living is proportionally low. To provide a perspective, within the developed world, the price of a cup of coffee ranges from $0.74 in Lisbon to almost $3.50 in Tokyo. For those in living in the developing world, costs of living are even lower. Thus, with the same net income, one person can live like a king by local standards while someone in a more expensive country may be homeless. Therefore, the proposed low rate may be quite respectable for the provider.

[Typing on keyboard]
Even if a person lives in a posh place, it is possible to earn a decent living with low rates. The key is technological prowess. Since the value of services are essentially time-linked, people that work efficiently can produce more in an hour and thus earn a respectable daily wage. At an APTI conference in Spain several years ago, a translator gave a half-hour explanation of how to efficiently use the key board to expedite translation. The productivity of a person with such skills is clearly higher than the those not native to the technology. Thus, through effective use of time and technology, service providers can even thrive at low rates.

While the income from low-rate offers may seem low, it may be sufficient for the needs of certain providers. In many fields, including translation, providers have full time jobs in other fields and only provide the service to gain extra income. Peasant women used to call this butter money since it served to pay for treats and luxuries, however these were defined. Consequently, these service providers are not even trying to make a living, which gives them full freedom to set rates. The one-eyed consider themselves fortunate in the kingdom of the blind.

[Father teaching child]
For many, low offers are the tools to take the first steps in a new profession. Lacking experience and skills and needing to acquire them, they are willing to pay for their apprenticeship by cutting down on potential income until they are able to raise their rates. In any case, that approach only partially works. The reality is that raising rates is very difficult in almost all fields at any time. Furthermore, most customers demand the same level of work regardless of experience or lack thereof. However, starting out at low rates appears to be an effective strategy for entering a new profession. Most translators began in this manner.

[Child in fear]
Fear can be a factor. Some service providers may be aware that their prices are low but are very dependent on that scant income. The worry is that any attempt to raise rates will lead to the loss of the vital income or prevent them from attaining any new customers.  This previous year has clearly increased the number of freelancers in this category. This concern is real, difficult to overcome and worthy of sympathy.

[3 monkeys]
Finally, there are those that follow the advice of the three monkeys: they don’t look for, ask about or discuss rates. They are perfectly happy earning their daily bread (without the butter) and will not demand more. Some eventually attain wisdom and realize they have been working for peanuts for years, ultimately raising their rates. Others never grasp that they are cutting themselves short or simply do not care. Maybe ignorance is bliss.

The next time you find yourself muttering curse words after reading some offensive offer by a service provider in Facebook or a professional portal, take a deep breath and consider the possible justifications for the low rate. Clearly, anger only harms the person getting angry, especially when it can fuel no constructive action. Remember that Audi and Mercedes-Benz have been no less successful than Volkswagen and Seat. To quote Voltaire, in the face of price-lowering competition, il faut cultiver son jardin, i.e., create your own universe and not worry about others, at least as much as possible.

* The blind need captions to fully access the Internet. All picture from Pixabay.

Marketing fun with Pfizer and Sinovac
Sun, 17 Jan 2021 06:30:00 +0000


[Avatar with syringe*]

With a plethora of COVID-19 vaccines on the market or in the pipeline, it is clear that within the foreseeable future, oversupply and competition will occur. As humor is often the best medicine, it would be entertaining to consider how these mighty and not-so-mighty brands can market their products to the future masses that will require the initial or booster doses. As the Chevy’s marketing department in the 1950s and 1960’s insisted, the key for a successful ad is the story, not the technical details. I playfully propose two vaccine ads:

[Red carpet]

Scene: an elegantly dressed couple walks down a street in New York with confident strides, almost ignoring the people around them, who seem to move of their way. They resemble a New Yorker cartoon, for those who remember those. Imagine a deep, male voice.

Script: Some people have it. The confidence to feel in control where ever they are. What gives this couple that feeling of invincibility? It is not the tailored designer clothes they are wearing. Nor is it the elegant but comfortable Italian leather shoes on their feet. No, it is the Pfizer vaccination they took just a week ago. They could have settled for any old vaccine but they insisted on the best and know, with Pfizer on their side, they can conquer the world. Do you want that feeling?  Get yourself a Pfizer. You are worth it.

To quote Monty Python, and now for something different:

[Chinese wise man]

Scene: a Chinese couple dressed in simple traditional clothing sits at the head of a large table covered with food delicacies and surrounded by their family.

In China, being wealthy does not earn you respect but how you get there does. Believers in the saying that a fool and his money are soon parted, they seek and respect value. Anybody can pay more and receive less but only the wise know how to attain the perfect product at the perfect price. That is why these parents chose to take the Sinovac vaccination over the more expensive brands and now serve as a shining example for this family and community. Show your wisdom. Insist on the Sinovac vaccination.

Granted that modern ads are often on YouTube, Tweeter, Facebook and other social media and have a very different style. In addition, by law, these ads would be followed by one minute of the fastest possible recitation of the potential side effects and a reminder to consult your doctor, which would spoil the whole effect. Still, in my opinion, the message would still work as it does for perfume. Besides, we all need a good laugh and a reminder that some kind of normal will eventually and shortly return.

* The blind need captions for access. All picture though Pixabay.

Negative events as a fuel for action
Sun, 10 Jan 2021 07:53:00 +0000


[Light bulb*]

2020 was not a great year for most freelancers, to put it mildly. For many entrepreneurs, the private news was as bad if not worse than the public news. The year was filled with negative events of all kinds to one degree or another. Yet, while the word negative may have connotations of failure and retreat, in practice, negative events can be the engines of positive changes.

It is clear the extreme reductions in business activity, lockdowns, bankruptcies and outstanding overdrafts have had a catastrophic effect on both salaried employees and freelancers but the latter generally had less help available to them, depending on the country. The immediate consequences include firings, crises in paying the mortgage, extreme loss of income and even hunger in same places. Entrepreneurs, who often make a living on “luxury” projects, found themselves with no customers or government support. In the short term, most people strongly felt the downward effect.

However, many impacted workers harnessed their frustration and anger in order to make positive changes whether in the nature or manner of their work. The negative energy, like the electrons in an atom, can create the momentum to make important life changes that will ultimately improve life quality. In practice, without a good kick in the rear, people often do not do what they want to or should do, including in regards to choice of livelihood.

[Finger flicking man]
 For example, many technical people were fired, an   experience that may be even more emotionally than   financially stressful. Regardless of the reason or manner   in which it is done, the act of being informed that you are   not good enough or superfluous hurts. For many, the   immediate reaction is paralysis and depression. However,   being shoved out of one door can be a shove into a better room, one where you really wanted to go but were afraid to try. Many mid-level managers and salaried programmers have claimed for years that they know better than their bosses and hate the “framework”’. Without the golden cage of a salary, they are free to test their wings and check their true worth. The desire to prove the boss wrong is a very strong motivator.

[Collapsing bricks]
Many freelancers found that their major customers stopped or severely reduced job orders, with dramatic consequences on income. The immediate reaction is distress and worry. It should be noted that it is always poor business practice to be overly dependent on any single client. The entrepreneur can use the involuntary free time to seek additional customers in the same area and consider other areas in which to expand. Most entrepreneurs know that these marketing efforts should have been done a long time ago but necessity is the evil stepmother of invention.

[Collapsed road]
 If your industry is likely to be permanently affected by   events due to developments in technology and medium-   term global financial instability, the immediate reaction   is  consternation and long-term doubts. This fear can fuel   the effort to conduct a new self-inventory of skills and   market survey in order to find a new niche to enter.   While  the fear of the unknown is strong, the thrill of a new challenge can easily create an energizing force. There is ultimately great satisfaction in changing careers even if you did not choose the moment.

[Bored man]
Finally, faced with the too much free time due to temporary closures, many previously busy people struggling with boredom and a feeling of a lack of usefulness. This idleness had led many to take courses and even start degree programs in areas that they only dreamed of. The free time has now become an important asset, not an emotional liability.

Entrepreneurs clearly do not have complete control of outside events nor can generally predict them. Thus, while it is easy and natural to consider certain events negative, we have the choice to render them positive, at least in the long term, and harness them to make productive and emotionally beneficial changes in our careers. I personally have experienced each of these states in my life and not only survived but eventually thrived. Even when challenged, as Perry Como sang, you have to accentuate the positive and thus eliminate the negative, whether that be in 1958, 2020 or 2021.

* Integrate the blind by posting with picture captions. Pictures through Pixabay.

For an adjective, it is all about the place
Sun, 03 Jan 2021 07:02:00 +0000


[series of adjectives*]

According to the theory of universal grammar, attributed to Naom Chomsky, children are not born tabula rasa, empty headed, but instead with an innate sense of the structure of grammar. Otherwise, it is argued, children would be unable to learn their first language. One aspect of this inherited knowledge is the relationship between nouns and adjectives, specifically they are adjoined. The curious variation is their actual order depends on language and meaning but children have no difficulty grasping the specifics of the language of their surroundings.

[boy and girl]
In practice, many languages whose adjectives must reflect the gender and/or number of the noun begin with the noun. These languages include many of the romance and Semitic languages. It is simply much simpler to state the noun, note whether it is masculine or feminine, singular or plural, and then adjust the form of the adjective. For example, if I am talking about a bunch of female teenagers, the adjective form would be the feminine, plural form as in this Hebrew phrase בנות יפות [banot yafot], pretty girls, as compared to בנים יפים [banim yafim], handsome boys. Thus, some children learn to place the adjective after the noun.

[German shepherd]
By contrast, a few languages, notably English, do not require adjective/noun agreement since they lack a broad linguistic gender structure. Therefore, the most important word, the noun, is placed last with the any and all adjectives preceding it.  For example, a person may be scared of the big, brown, growling German Shepherd puppy. Any post-noun adjectives require either a relative pronoun (who, which or which) or a participle, the ing form of the verb. Back to the example, the person may be scared of the puppy that is looking at him or just looking at him. Therefore, children with English among others as their native tongue learn that the noun follows the adjective.

[Mayan vase]
Of course, hybrid systems are also quite common. In some cases, the adjective can be either before or after the noun, depending on the meaning and form. Some examples in French include un ancien ministre (a former minister) as compared to un vase ancien (an ancient vase) and ma chėre tante (my dear aunt) and une bague chėre (an expensive ring).  See this list. I imagine other languages also have situations where the meanings change depending on whether the adjective is before or after the noun.

[packed desk]
In at least one case, the actual form of the adjective may change based on its location as well as having a slightly different connotatoin. Russian has short and long forms for some but not all adjectives. The long form is used before the noun while the short term is used after the noun as if the verb to be, non-existent in the present tense in Russian, was there. Compare длинная очередь [dlinaya ochered] (a long line) with очередь длинна [ochered dlina] (the line (is) long). Furthermore, if a long form is used after the noun, it indicates a permanent status as compared to the short form. Compare Он очень занят [on ochen zanyat], meaning he is very busy right now, with Он очень занятый [on ochen zanyati] – meaning he is generally very busy. Learning Russian always reminds of the great Tom Lehrer line about new math: “it is so simple, so bloody simple, that only a child can do it”, or in this case, intuitively understand it.

There is Israeli joke about recognzing the speech of new immigrants in that they say  עברית היא קשה שפה [icrkit hi kasha safa], literally Hebrew is a difficult language, which places the noun and adjective in the wrong order. This comment reflects the variance in language structure as well as the fact children are far better at picking up languages than adults. To make minor changes to the song, in regard to adjective and noun placement, it is all about the place, about the place, no trouble, at least for children.

*Picture captions allow access to the blind. All pictures via pixabay.

The real oases of Israel
Sun, 27 Dec 2020 07:06:00 +0000


[Desert oasis*]

Israel traditionally is a magnet for tourists. They come to touch the portkeys, as Harry Potter would say, to their spiritual past, whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim or Bajai. Whether it involves the Wailing Wall, church at Capernaum, Dome of the Rock or Bahai Gardens, the touch with these old stones creates a magic connection for many visitors.

For those open to and seeking the modern Israel, the magic is its omnipresent oases, not those in the desert but in the surprises hidden in its people. What makes physical oases so special is neither their greenness nor the sandy color around them. It is the sudden wealth that appears from nowhere, from deep under the ground. Likewise, Israel is an extremely heterogenous country with people from all countries of the world and all backgrounds. Even the tourists in their air-conditioned buses cruising the country from one old rock to another notice how excited and energetic people are. The constant babble of Hebrew and Arabic, among the many languages, creates an almost monotonous background. However, even a monotonous short conversation reveals unexpected wealth.

Unlike many countries, outside appearance simply does not reflect the person. For example, as part of the introduction to the course I teach, I ask my engineering students, in the early to mid 20’s, to tell me about something special they have done (in their short lives). In response, I have met national swimming champions, winners of international karate championships and professional divers, to name just a few surprises. Just recently, the head of the Israeli Translators Association, Uri Bruck, gave a fascinating and detailed Zoom lecture on the history of the English translation of the Bible. I have known him for many years but had no idea that he was so knowledgeable in the subject and had delved into it out of curiosity, not as part of any religious studies.  In fact, it is quite common in Israel to discover the person next to you in line in the supermarket wearing old jeans and a faded sweatshirt is the head of a hospital department or institute of academic learning. Appearances can truly be deceiving.

Granted, like the slug jelly beans in Harry Potter (again), the surprise  is occasionally less than pleasant. A seemingly innocent comment can trigger a wild tirade from a taxi driver. However, far more often, the modern Israel is filled with omnipresent oases, the unexpected fruit riches of its people. These discoveries are, in my mind, more interesting and palpable than its famous old rocks and clearly render any trip to Israel unforgettable, as Nat King Cole would say.

* Always add caption to pictures to allow access to the blind. 

Picture credit:Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/papafox-7788876/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3281084">Peter Fischer</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3281084">Pixabay</a>

Vive le Français
Sun, 20 Dec 2020 07:14:00 +0000

[Eifel tower*]

A few weeks ago, I had the special and unexpected pleasure of listening to an online session of the SFT, the French association of translators. The content was rather prosaic, even staid, specifically the specifics of the conversations between the association and the French government regarding COVID-19 relief available to translators and interpreters. Yet, in my eyes, it was a great pleasure, the mahiya as my mother would say (in Yiddish), because of the language. All the French I hear is from the television, which is respectable in terms of grammar and pronunciation most of the time but clearly meant for mass consumption on a communicative level. By contrast, the hosts employed elegant phrasing, accurate connecting words and all the tenses in the book. To some it may have sounded bureaucratic. However, I saw precision, clarity and, most importantly, elegance. Despite my less than great interest in the content, I simply sat back and enjoyed the show, so to speak.

I have often mocked France as the country in which style has almost completed defeated content.  In my experience, most French really do not care what they eat, people say or they achieve in life as long as the actual output has style. Michelin star-decorated restaurants serve plates that would leave Mahatma Gandhi hungry but cause Claude Monet to ring praises of the colors and textures. In my eyes, women’s clothes style in France is not based on the garment but on the overlay of shades and forms, quite different from the mode of most of its neighbors, especially Germany. Watching the July 14th military parades in France, especially as compared to the Israel flag-exchange ceremony the eve of every Independence Day, is a marvel to the eyes but does pose questions regarding when these soldiers find time to learn how to fight. There is no doubt about it that the French style is aesthetic to the extreme.

Maybe due to age, I am learning to see the wisdom of the French approach. A neat, beautifully plated éclair looks much more appetizing than a messy one thrown  sloppily on a plate. Clothes do make the man (and woman) as so much of our first impression is based on a visual assessment, which often identifies important internal values. The manner of speaking and level of language use is quite often a reflection of the intelligence and intellectual approach of the speaker or writer. Even in my work, I have come to understand that many customers value neat formatting of text and tables as much as the skill of the translation.  It may be that style is really never completely divorced from reality.

To make it clear, my love of beautiful language is not limited to French. I appreciate the strange but charming logic of winding Russian sentences whose parts are connected by a coherent logic that only a Russian can create. I cannot help but smile when I hear Italian. The music of that language is simply entrancing in itself. As for English, a rough hybrid of a Gaelic, Germanic and Latin-based languages, when a diamond does appear, it is a result of extensive and artistic polishing. Thus, I appreciate the “effortlessness” of Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell, to name a few, knowing that the pearl was the fruit of great labor. So, elegance in any language is worthy of appreciation.

Still, maybe because I am half-French, when I hear or read beautiful French, it makes me happy, joyous even. Like listening to the last movement of Beethoven’s ninth symphony, it is an ode to joy. I will never be able to speak, not to mention write, that way but that does not stop me from appreciating the beauty of “une belle phrase”, a beautiful sentence, perfect in itself regardless the content or lack thereof, like Cinderella at the ball, a princess for that moment. So, vive le Français.

*Picture caption allow the blind to access the Internet.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/philriley427-331295/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4416700">Phil Riley</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4416700">Pixabay</a>

Translation hybridization
Sun, 13 Dec 2020 07:00:00 +0000


[mixed-color squash*]

In philosophy and political science, there is a useful concept called the ideal type. It refers a theoretical example that encompasses all characteristics of that form and serves a vital role in comparison and contrast. For example, Max Weber’s definition of citizenship is vital in understanding the modern world as compared to the medieval one. Likewise, Marx and Engels define socialism in opposition to capitalism in its pure form. Clearly, conceptual understanding is enriched by use of the ideal type.

Unfortunately, in reality, no ideal type exists from the simplest elements, water, to the most complicated, systems of human interaction. In other words, everything is a hybrid from the economic system you live in, a unique mixture of socialism and capitalism, to the plumber you call in, who can fix your pipes but also needs to know how to plaster your wall.  Even  engineers require knowledge outside their specialization. For example, electrical engineers need to have a solid basis of mechanical engineering and programing to properly do their job. It is almost impossible for a professional to limit knowledge to only one area.

Translators are no different. By tradition, the market has divided translators into niches such as medical, legal, marketing and beauty products. Translators in these niches are characterized by thorough knowledge of the terminology and language of the genre. However, almost all documents that are defined as belonging to one category also have segments of text relating to completely different areas of knowledge. From my experience, I have had rental contracts that required me to research the names of women’s garments in the 19thcentury and franchise agreements that sent me checking my accounting textbooks. My wife, who specializes in medical translation including medical devices, regularly translates long sections of electronic data (for the technical specifications) and legalese in the warranty section. While “pure” texts do appear, most projects involve significant sections, at least terms of content if not quantity, of material from other fields of knowledge.

The significance for translators is that they need to know how to identify resources, develop a peer network and actively expand their knowledge base. A good translator knows how to use Google search to identify correct information. It is not only a matter of finding a term but also of understanding the context in the text and the suggested translation. Also, not all Google results are created equal, with some being a personification of sharing the ignorance. To update Ibsen in Enemy of the People, the number of Google hits does not make it correct. Often, in case of doubt or confusion, it is advisable to consult a trusted colleague with knowledge in that area. As a short-term solution, consulting is effective because the customer receives a proper translation. However, in the long term, frequent need for telephone help indicates that the translator needs to take proactive steps to expand the knowledge base into that area. Some easily accessible sources are YouTube and old-fashioned text books. Benjamin Franklin's quip about an ounce of prevention is relevant here. Ignorance is no sin but doing nothing about it is.

Also of great significance, customers need to be made aware of the actual complexity of the text. Even agencies tend to treat all texts of a similar genre and assume that every translator is also skilled at dealing with the subtexts. Too often, the result is partially successful translation, with the subtexts poorly rendered, thus creating bad vibes from the disappointing results. When dealing with end customers, it may useful to ask them if there are legal, technical or marketing sections in their work. Not only will the customer be impressed by your professionalism but the translator can escape avoidable minefields or invest more time skimming the text before accepting the project or setting the price. Simply put, not all texts of the same type, are created equal.

The world, including translation, is far from pure and often a blend of many elements. On the one hand, it complicates matters as it requires people to acquire a broad range of knowledge. On the other hand, it makes each person, situation and translation unique. Ultimately, imperfection in a certain sense can be much more interesting.


* The subject of this post was taken from a lecture at conference but, alas, I no longer remember when, where and who. Pictures help the blind. 

Picture source: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/aitoff-388338/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3684196">Andrew Martin</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3684196">Pixabay</a>

Product gender crossing – Perceiving new markets
Sun, 06 Dec 2020 07:00:00 +0000

[Man anad woman*]

Given the poor quality of most TV programs and amount of time allocated to advertisements, I often find the most interesting aspect of watching television is analyzing the commercials. Lately, I notice three spots, each for a different product, marketing products to men despite the fact that the traditional purchasers are women. They are food for thought for entrepreneurs as they demonstrate the art of specific messages and the possibility of market expansion beyond traditional customers, concepts that have become even more important during the last year.

The products being marketing for men were urine leakage underwear, perfume and skin cream. For the first, Tena reiterated the phrase  “one in four” many times and showed image of average, healthy looking men, emphasizing that one of them had incontinence problems without actually showing the underwear. To sell the perfume, Johnny Depp appears in the Dior “Sauvage” commercial, escaping the city to reach the wild desert. Finally, Loréal adveritises its Hydra Energetic Skin lotion by showing young men stating that the use of the cream removes the fatigue from their skin, making look more energetic. It is clear that the target audience for these spots is male.

Accordingly, the commercials adopt approaches that are different from those directed at women. In the first case, the message was that it is no shame to have to wear this product because many others suffer from the same problem even if they do not talk about it. By contrast, Tena’s adverts for its women’s products emphasize the effectiveness and attractiveness of the garment, even showing it. Clearly, the issue of shame is much less relevant for women. While men have traditionally bought perfume, they have mainly purchased it as gifts for women except maybe aftershave for themselves. Since perfume commercials essentially communicate the impression that a person will make after sprinkling some of the fragrance, the men’s version emphasizes virility and youth, not external physical beauty. In the past, men’s use of skin cream was therapeutic, i.e., to treat dry skin. Loréal is attempting to instill in men’s mind that their skin somehow reflects their inner fatigue, not an attractive feature, and a solution for this “problem” exists, i.e., this cream. By contrast, women have always used make-up and thus only need "reminding" that their skin is showing its age, a permanent problem, not that it looks tired, a temporary problem. Therefore, the male-directed spots apply very specific strategies.

These strategies include identifying, expanding and creating a need. Tena did not invent male incontinence problems but did realize that most men were not using a dedicated product to handle the problem. While men did buy some scents for themselves, recent generations of men are more open to using them, thus allowing significant expansion in the number of potential customers. Traditionally the vast majority of men have not expressed much aestjetic worry about their skin or the external aspects of aging aside from balding, limiting the ability of the cosmetics companies to persuade them that they need skin care products. However, the emphasis on short-term attractiveness may open the door for greater purchases of existing products. All these strategies allow companies to sell more by merely adapting an existing product.

For entrepreneurs and freelances, these “mega” lessons also apply. It can be productive to invest time in considering the profile of a potential buyer of your product while ignoring historical patterns. Where a pattern of limited purchases exists, it may be possible to expand the volume of orders by suggesting further uses of your services by emphasizing their benefits to the customer. Given the increased number of people working independently from their home, the potential market for many services has increased exponentially, thus rendering it vital to consider to how to reach these customers. The principles of marketing do not change according to budget, only the means of reaching the customers.

The next time you get up during the break to get something to eat that would be better to pass on, try to pay attention to the commercials and treat them as free marketing seminars. That often makes them far more interesting than the programs themselves.

* Picture captions can help millions of vision impaired people access the Internet. 

Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/cdd20-1193381/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4065900">愚木混株 Cdd20</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=4065900">Pixabay</a>

Zooming on the silent minority – Reaching passive learners despite technology
Sun, 29 Nov 2020 06:51:00 +0000

[Zoom image*]

There is the maxim of 80/20 stating that 20 percent of your effort goes to achieving 80 of the results and vice versa. Besides being a translator, I am an English lecturer, with more than 25 years of experience teaching English to engineering students at the Braude College of Engineering in Israel. We strive to teach all first year students the four basic language skills, specifically reading, writing, speaking and listening. In teaching, given a heterogeneous class, the challenge is not reaching the vast majority of active and/or knowledgeable students but instead the minority suffering from passive behavior and weak backgrounds. The forced use of Zoom as the means of teaching has only made it more difficult to reach these students, forcing all teachers to reconsider how to impact those students.

To define the problem, every class has a certain percentage of students that suffers from both passive learning habits and a deficient background knowledge, creating the conditions for failure in terms of grades and, more importantly, a damaging lack of knowledge in the future. Passive students fundamentally accept their lack of understanding regardless of the psychological cost. In terms of behavior, they sit in class and seemingly pay attention but in fact understand very little of the lesson. They avoid asking questions in front of their peers, whether as a result of personality, culture or both, thus hiding their lack of comprehension. At home, on their own, they make an attempt to apply the taught material, generally with poor results as they did not understand it in class, but do not seek additional help. They often consult with students in the same boat because of a shared culture or to avoid appearing stupid to socially distant peers. This same behavior would not be academically disastrous if the students retained sufficient knowledge of the material from previous courses. However, in too many cases, poor schools combined with ineffective work habits have created a serious knowledge deficiency that requires extraordinary effort to overcome. Thus, these challenged but silent students either fail the course or continue on without the knowledge they require in the following courses and their future careers.

In normal times, i.e., physical classrooms, teachers can identify these students through observation and quiet interaction. Experienced educators quickly notice those students that tend to avoid participation and asking questions. A discrete assessment of student comprehension during class exercises by looking over the student’s shoulder or asking questions makes it clear that the student’s silence is not golden. In other words, the student neither understands nor is taking action to rectify that situation. Repeated occurrence should turn on a red light signaling that this student needs extra help. In this case, the most effective technique is a quiet conversation before or after the lesson in order to identify the specific problem and suggest solutions or provide additional opportunities for further explanation. In practice, the success of this method, granted partial, is premised on transmitting the feeling of “I care” to that student, which, in turn, creates the motivation to make a greater effort to work through the difficulty and fight fatalism. The teacher generally must mentor these students on an ongoing basis to fundamentally change the situation but any progress is important to the future of that student.

Zoom removes many of the diagnostic tools and limits the ability of the teacher to communicate empathy and assess understanding. A lecturer using Zoom sees at most some 20 faces regardless of the size of the class. Even that amount depends on the issue of forcing students to keep their cameras on, not a simple matter. Furthermore, only one student can talk at a time, with a short but annoying gap between the transfer of speech right to another student. Any  dialogue is public, limiting private conversation to a written from on the chat, far from an ideal manner to communicate. Even worse, it is impossible to glance at a student’s answers during an assignment, leaving the teacher completely in the dark in regards to the level of actual understanding. Break rooms of various sizes allow more personal communication. However, there is an interplay between the size and number of groups, i.e, the smaller the groups are, the more jumping from group to group is required, which eats up time. So, breakout rooms alleviate the communication issues to a certain degree but are far from being equivalent to being there physically. Even quizzes, considered a practical even if flawed method of knowledge assessment, often express nothing since the students can share knowledge or copy at ease sitting in front of their own computer. In short, in Zoom, teachers often throw the knowledge into the cloud and hope for rain.

I, like most teachers, have tried to learn from the successes and failures of last semester’s Zoom teaching. I have two groups of 30 students this semester. Already some six weeks into the semester, I have identified several students that are “out of it” and merely attend class. In several cases, I have asked them to talk to me on Zoom at the end of the lesson when everybody has “left”. The results in terms of communication and establishing a bond have been far from acceptable. I do not feel that these conversations have created any momentum in terms of changing the learning approach of the student. More successfully, I have been much less tolerant, on the verge of brutal, on early assignments regardless of their actual weight in the final grade. From the start, I have been returning compositions and assignments back to the students to redo, providing specific instructions on what to fix in a private email message. In a few cases, I have warned students that they are in danger of failing the course if they do not make more effort, again specifying what is required in the email. When they have applied the constructive criticism, I have quickly praised their effort, of course. This honest but less emotionally communicative approach, forced upon me by the requirement to teach in Zoom, will hopefully lead to better results at the end of this semester as compared to last semester.

Viewing my efforts this semester, I have been spending almost 80% of time on these passive students, which represent more than 20% as a result of the difficulties of Zoom learning. Strong students almost always survive but the goal of education should be to reach all those with the potential to learn, not only those with the current ability. It is distressing to know that intelligent people will have their ambitions stalled because they were unable to overcome the block of an ineffective learning strategy on their own. As the ad on UK television says, teachers can make a difference if we only can figure just how to do so.

*Captions are vital for the blind.

Image: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/alexandra_koch-621802/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5231389">Alexandra_Koch</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=5231389">Pixabay</a>

Non-native bias? (in translation)
Sun, 22 Nov 2020 07:45:00 +0000


[Bearded dragons*]

At any get-together of translators, one topic that surely heats up the conversation is the virtue or lack thereof of translators translating into their non-native language. In its most extreme form, one side declares that non-native speakers, regardless of their language level, are unable to express themselves in writing like native sons and daughters, who have had a lifelong education in that language. On the other hand, those excluded translators retort by claiming that this generalization is, at best, a form of unjustified elitism and, at worst, an attempt to limit competition, noting that many native speakers, even translators, are unfamiliar with the grammar rules of their own language. As usual, the truth is more complex with the full expectation that many will disagree with me.

To clarify, it is clear that interpreters, as compared to translators, can and often should be natives in the source language, not target language, since their task often involves almost instantaneous understanding of the speech of people from all levels of society and a need to understand the subtext. For example, an APTI conference in Valencia, a professional interpreter recounted how difficult and important it was to understand the testimony of uneducated women in Yugoslavia during the War Crimes Tribunal because they were talking about rape, a taboo topic. The interpreter had to understand the code language of these people while the judges could cope with less-than-perfect English. So, the arguments below do not apply to interpreters.

To help non-translators understand the problem, it is first necessary to realize that the demands of written communication are different from those of spoken communication in terms of learning process and flexibility. Formal education is not required in order to speak a language. Numerous people worldwide have studied a foreign language, even for several years and are barely able to get a sentence out while others, with no education but merely the opportunity and necessity to use the language, not only express themselves clearly but live their daily lives in that language. By contrast, people attain the ability to express ideas in a clear, acceptable manner in writing through many years of formal schooling. To one degree or another, written language is a dialect that is only taught in schools although reading and speaking contribute to its acquisition. Furthermore, speaking is an instantaneous act that does not allow for editing and thus accepts individual differences in style and even grammar. When we judge spoken language, the essential issue is whether the listener understands with accuracy a secondary factor. It is true that people may note grammar and vocabulary errors, especially teachers and translators, but these mistakes are generally forgiven. On the other hand, written language, especially English, a hodgepodge of various roots, is a polished product, like a diamond. Since writers (and translators) have the time to edit, readers expect a perfect result in terms of grammar, syntax and style. The requirements of those elements may evolve but do so quite slowly. The “accepted” manner of writing, with small variations, is de rigueur. Any writer failing to comply with those rules is harshly judged as the sharp reactions to grammatical errors in comments in social media shows.  The scope of acceptable written communication is rather limited.

For this reason, native speakers generally categorically reject translation by non-natives in their language. Unless the foreigners were educated in that language from childhood, it is stated that they simply cannot write like a native but instead write in a hybrid style combining their native and second languages. Teachers call this language interference, which can also happen to natives after sufficient years living in a foreign country. Examples include Hebrish, where commas and preposition use is rather whimsical and Russian Engish, famous for its curious use of articles.  Consequently, translations by non-natives may be accurate in terms of content but will sound “translated”, not seamless, the legendary goal of all translation. Specifially,  Ideally, a proper translation should sound like it was an original work. Clearly, the vast majority of non-natives, Samual Beckett aside, are not capable of achieving that goal. Thus, in terms of attaining seamlessness, the nativists are correct.

Yet, supply and demand create a strong niche for non-native translators. First, even in the common language combinations such as Spanish-English, excellent non-native writing may be good enough for the customer or the customer may lack sufficient knowledge to detect the errors. On a larger scale, many languages used on one country with low population suffer from a lack of non-natives that have learned the language proficiently. For example, few Americans and Brits have learned Czech or Hungarian, to name a few. Thus, law students in the Czech Republics are also trained as English translators as there are insufficient numbers of native English translators in these combinations. In addition, the translation rates in a country may be too low to attract foreign-based translators, effectively giving local, non-native translators a virtual monopoly. The Russian Federation is the most striking example where non-native, local translation is the norm due to the price structure for the most part. Thus, in practice, non-native translation is rather common and acceptable in some markets.

As in most issues, the question whether it is acceptable or not for translators to translate into their non-native language is not black or white. Ideally, translators should only translate into their native language since they have the proper ear for that language. On the other hand, market conditions create a situation requiring translation by non-native speakers. Reality is often a shade of grey.

* Caption pictures to allow the blind access. Picture via Pixabay

From rags to riches – culinarily speaking
Sun, 15 Nov 2020 06:13:00 +0000

[Emperor with two servants*]

[Roasted chicken]
Apparently, life is dynamic not only for people but also for food, i.e., the status of given dish can radically change over time. For example, in a recent episode of Les Carnets de Julie, my favorite French culture and cooking show, the subject was poulet rôti, roasted chicken to the more proletariat among us. She recounted how the dish went from being a peasant dish to a royal delicacy through serendipity when the French king Henry IV (late 16thcentury) chanced to eat it at a peasant’s hut during a hunting expedition. He then insisted that his royal chefs prepare it for him. This led me to consider other foods that have risen in the world and now appear in the menus of the world’s fanciest restaurant (at equally fancy prices).

For starters, we will order some soup. The elegant diner has a delicious choice of French onion soup, Mexican tripe soup, bouillabaisse and gazpacho. Le soupe à l’oignon
uses the simplest of ingredients, specifically beef bone, onions, dry bread and a little cheese, items that even the poorest French peasant could attain, to create the tastiest and most satisfying of rainy-day soups, almost a meal in itself. The aunt of Louis XV supposedly prepared it for the King after a long day of hunting. Tripe soup, menudo in Mexico, is a folk recipe for dealing with hangovers and is eaten for breakfast by many Mexican-Americans. However, the long time required to prepare it and its exoticness make it a special dish on a restaurant menu. Bouillabaisse was originally a fish soup prepared by fishermen from whatever fish was not sold but today is a delicacy prepared from the finest fish and priced accordingly. Finally, gazpacho, a cold tomato and pepper soup, has long been a Spanish favorite, especially on those hot summer days. Today, it is served and relished in restaurants in much colder climates.

For the main course, many delicious items from the sea are available at a price of course. Scallops, known by the French as coquilles St. Jacques, were not considered a prime source of food for early New English settlers, whose descendants are now paying through the nose for that insult. Likewise, the Irish viewed oysters as food for the poor but were willing to walk long distances to attain them during the Great Potato Famine. Now they must work very hard to afford them. I must add that I had the extreme pleasure of eating two types of oysters at a Dublin restaurant, among the best I have ever eaten. I wish to thank my Irish colleague, Mr. Michael McCann, for treating me to them. He had no idea how much I enjoyed them. Shrimps, the stable of any respectable fish restaurant, was once used for fish bait. Calamari, a.k.a. squid, was once an inexpensive fish dish but, alas, but its price has increased with its adoption of an Italian name. Any of these working-class soups would be served at a fancy restaurant.

For those that prefer meat, our revolutionary menu features choucroute, frogs, snails, haggis and blood pudding, admittedly items not to everybody’s taste. The Alsatian highly valued plate of fermented cabbage and various preserved meats began its journey far away in China when some cabbages were simply forgotten.  Frogs were last resort of monks that were forbidden to eat meat because they were thought to be too fat but now are a rather pricy dish beyond the pocketbook of most churchmen. Snails was a high protein, low fat and easy access food commonly used eaten since prehistoric times. Now, they are a rarely eaten gourmet dish. Based on the principle of waste not, want not, Scottish haggis are a mixture of various internal organs, the taste of which can bring some Scottish to tears, whether out of pleasure or not. Those into extreme meat are willing to pay an arm and a leg to get their teeth into it. Likewise, why waste the blood when you use it produce a blood sausage or black pudding? The English seem to get great pleasure from it. I am not sure if it is available outside of the UK, however. These local meat dishes have acquired a world reputation.

To accompany our main course, why serve rice or potatoes when Jerusalem artichokes, polenta, quinoa, ratatouille or even truffles are available? Sun roots, as these special artichokes are called, originally came from North America (as did tobacco and syphilis) but was basically ignored there as they can cause extreme stomach distress. Curiously, European chefs love this vegetable and often offer it as an alternative to potato puree. Chacun à son gout. Polenta, a paste made originally from local grains and then from cornmeal when corn arrived in Europe, is considered an exotic side although its origins are very peasant. Quinoa is a more modern gold digger, beginning as a basic staple grain in the South America and becoming a star performer, especially among vegetarians due to its high protein levels. Ratatouille began its career as a course vegetable stew but became a Hollywood star. However, the crėme de la crėme of accompaniments, to the point of being a main dish in itself, is truffles, that incredibly expensive fungus, some 4000 EUR per kilo, that began as a seasonal gathering food among peasants. Money talks. These side dishes have much reason to feel proud.

To end the meal on a sweet note, the social riser restaurant can offer flan, bread pudding or chocolate. Flan, a crème caramel, appropriate in the finest restaurants, is the result of Roman attempts to find something to do with surplus eggs. Clearly, necessity is the mother of invention. By contrast, bread pudding combines old bread, milk and a fat to create a tasty sweet. Apparently, the sum is often greater than the individual parts. In a riches to rags to riches story, chocolate began as a tribute to the Aztec kings, was thrown away by European traders and again rose to the top of the chart among pâtissiers with a secure position for the foreseeable future. It deserves a sweet life after such an up and down life. Regardless of their journey, these deserts are finally enjoying the sweet life.

To paraphrase a well-known saying, one era’s staple is another era’s gourmet. These are just a short list of foods that have experienced an upward change in status. It would be only fair to discuss those that have fallen from favor (or is that flavor?) but that is the subject of another post. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed the menu.

* Always caption pictures to allow access to the blind. All pictures via Pixabay.

Accent grave
Sun, 08 Nov 2020 07:19:00 +0000

[Chat cartoon*]

Non-natives are often poor speakers of a language for the basic reason that they don’t try to speak and learn like children do – trial and error. While children have little pride and are willing to be laughed at or with, they quickly forget their embarrassment, understand their mistake and master the language, sometimes better than their parents. By contrast, most adults feel ashamed when struggling to express themselves in a second language and avoid the learning process. Aside from grammar and vocabulary errors, foreigners often fear people’s reaction to their accent.  Interestingly enough, this accent is generally not an issue for listeners. In reality, pronunciation and intonation can be a greater problem but fortunately can be consciously improved with practice.

Many foreign speakers hate the sound of their own accent in a foreign language. They can easily detect the difference between their accent and that of native speakers, whether live ones or those on television. As a result, they feel second-class or worse. Curiously, in many cases, a foreign accent actually creates a favorable impression. Henry Kissinger, he legendary Secretary of State under Nixon, retained his heavy German accent and caused people to believe that he was quite perspicacious, a benefit in his role. My mother was born in France and did not study English due to the “War”. She arrived in New York in her 20’s and quickly became a top perfume salesperson because people believed that, being French, she must be familiar with perfume. Even ordinary folk seem much more exotic when speaking with a foreign accent. How many actresses were considered sexy merely because they spoke in a different way? Thus, it is perfectly fine, even beneficial sometimes, to speak with an accent, even a heavy one.

On the other hand, native speakers do not understand the difficulty faced by foreigners in pronouncing the problem sounds posed by each language. Some examples include the throated h and a in Hebrew and Arabic, the various varieties of r in Russian, English, French and Spanish among others, the English th, so dreaded by the French, and the two types of sh in Russian. Every language has its landmines that test the tongue of the foreigner. Having learned to say these sounds as small children, locals see their pronunciation as obvious and view their mangling as laziness or lack of caring, which it is admittedly sometimes true. Fortunately, it is possible to practice these sounds in the safety of your own home, alone or with a trusted accomplice, and perfect their pronunciation. My challenging French r word was serrurière, a female locksmith, which truly gets your r’s rolling. Once you can say them like the native, your status will increase enormously as will their appreciation of your language skill and knowledge. It is all of matter of practice and therefore attainable.

A more difficult challenge is intonation. In simple terms, each language has a unique song, ranging from flat to sing-song or even extreme highs and lows. Russian tends to be flat, dying in the end while French is up and down and Italian and Hebrew simply sing. This is one of the reasons that speakers of certain languages are considered to be hysterical while other are viewed as cold. Simply, the natural rise and fall of volume varies by language and depends on the emotional content of the sentences. Small children naturally absorb the accepted intonation, but adults find it hard to change their way of speaking. Yet, incorrect intonation makes it difficult for natives to understand you and even sometimes conveys the wrong message, such as unintended annoyance, anger or questioning. As in pronunciation, a little homework goes a long way into retraining your speech to be flatter or more expressive. Over time, a person can develop linguistic schizophrenia, speaking in a different intonation for each language. In other cases, the learned intonation starts entering the native intonation, creating a hybrid. In any case, even not so young adults can practice and reduce native-language interference in their intonation, thus increasing the perception of their language skill, a good result in itself, as well as ensuring that their intended meaning is transmitted. As the song goes, you got the power.

So, if mastering a foreign language is a matter of practice and the willingness to make and learn from errors, accent should not be a barrier. Proper pronunciation and intonation can and should be learned, without public embarrassment. It is such a wonderful feeling when a local tells you how well you speak the language. Enjoy. You have earned the compliment.

* Picture captions allow access to the sighted impaired.

Picture credit: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/clker-free-vector-images-3736/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=23713">Clker-Free-Vector-Images</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=23713">Pixabay</a>

Successful persona – I have got that feeling
Sun, 01 Nov 2020 07:14:00 +0000



At the 2019 American Translators Association conference in Palm Springs, I had an illuminating conversation with a young translator. After I asked how he was doing, he said that he felt that he didn’t belong there. My response was that I had felt the same way for many years. His remark touched on an issue that is not openly discussed. Clearly, the sense of not being a real professional is a difficult matter to be shared with your peers. The difficulty in feeling successful is the lack of a universal or even accepted definition although it is possible to note some measures of aspects. Even worse, it is a chicken-egg problem since self-belief in success serves as a precondition to it.

[Income chart]

The most common measure of success is income, however that is defined. The vast majority of people wish to be financially secure. The ambiguity arises from the definition of that concept. For some, just knowing that all bills will be paid this month provides great security while others require large sums in the bank, maybe millions, to provide that same sense of security. Most people are somewhere in between and aim to have some blend of flexibility on the monthly budget as well as sufficient bank reserves. This subjectivity creates a situation where the identical income can create a feeling of great security or insecurity, depending on the person and circumstances. The scene at the end of Dumas’ the Count of Monte Cristo where Baroness Danglers and Mercedes end the books with the identical fortunes and opposite conclusions demonstrates the subjective definition of wealth. Thus, it is impossible to say how much income is required to make a person feel successful, rendering irrelevant any attempt to equate success with income.

[Blue ribbon]

Another measure of success is professional skill, including recognition by peers and  by customers. Clearly, having pride in one’s work and belief in its proficiency create confidence. Yet, despite countless efforts to quantify good work, running a business is as much an art as a science. While there may be clear benchmarks, there are countless ways to achieve those goals. Furthermore, people rarely actually see their colleagues at work to allow them to compare craftsmanship. Not only that, these few peers that observe your work often feel constrained to express their true opinion or so it seems. So, it is generally difficult to objectively determine whether our work is professional or not. At best, it is possible to state that there are many more colleagues whose products are worse than ours than those whose products are better than ours. Even customer feedback can be misleading in that not all customers are capable of accurately assessing the work nor do they report results representatively. Thus, even the sense of professionalism is ultimately subjective.

The easiest basis in searching for a basis of feeling successful is creating and appreciating vectors. The unrelenting commitment to doing the best job possible and making constant improvement, whether in terms of income or skill, often leads to a feeling of being professional. In other words, while there may be those that are better than me at this point in time due to their experience, I strive for the best and am building a better future. Thus, in these fully objective and controllable goals, I am a professional, no less than my peers that are more experienced or more skillful than me.

[Brain with muscles]

This issue is not merely philosophical but instrumental for selling a service. Most customers are insufficiently familiar with a given product or service to properly evaluate it even if they had sufficient time and energy. Even more than recommendations, customers judge us as we judge ourselves. When business people project real confidence in themselves, customers pick it up, whether the communication is oral or written. Most customers can identify bluffing, rendering it is a poor long-term strategy. Instead, all entrepreneurs must understand and properly value their skills. A justifiably confident “I can do this” is the key for project approval. So, all business people must cultivate their belief in their skills to be able to apply those skills.

This belief creates the reality. Putting politics aside, millions of American believe that Trump is a successful businessman despite the fact that he has gone bankrupt 6 times because he believes that he is successful. Granted his self-confidence is a statistical outlier, his example highlights the requirement to have faith in one’s skill regardless of the current objective circumstances. To that young translator at the conference, I would say that you are a professional in that you have studied the craft, are working and striving for greater skill by having attended that translation conference. To all entrepreneurs, I would say that the persona of success is created by accentuating your true positives first to yourselves and then to others.

* Captions are important to the sight impaired. All pictures via Pixabay.

QA known – The why and how of polishing translations
Sun, 25 Oct 2020 05:43:00 +0000



The large majority of professionals share a similar basis of knowledge, granted with individual style differences. They know how to produce the basic product or service, whether that is a chair or a translation. The devil is in the details. Customers expect a polished product or service, one free of errors and blemishes. This requirement separates the wheat from the chaff, distinguishing those whose work leads to long term satisfied customers and those who struggle to maintain a clientele. Using an example from a production line, no manufacturing process reaches 100% perfection. Thus, it is clear that no reputable enterprise passes on its products to others without a thorough quality assurance (QA) process.

Translation also requires QA. To explain, translators produce a first draft aimed at transmitting the content, tone, subtext messages and structure of the original text to another language. If successful, the result is faithful copy of the source text. However, the first draft is often neither faultless no seamless. It may suffer from incorrect word choices, grammar and spelling errors, inconsistency in terminology uses, punctuation misuse and missing or duplicate words. Even if technically correct, the first draft may use syntax patterns from the original document that are not acceptable in the target language, such as the use of active/passive and the placement of adjectives and direct and indirect objects. The longer the documents, the greater the probability of the occurrence of these mistakes. In fact, a first draft is not an acceptable final product in most cases regardless of the knowledge and skill of the translator.

The key for a proper translation is the QA. The first and easiest step involves software applications. The most obvious one is spell check, F7 in Microsoft products. This function will identify most spelling errors and duplications as well as many grammar and punctuation errors. Of course, there will be false positives and missed errors, especially when the word in error exists. Still, as a first step, spell check identifies the vast majority of the gross errors. An additional step is running a QA function. Most of the CAT (Computer Aided Translation) tools includes this function with others, such as Xbench, available for download. The purpose of these tools is to identify inconsistent translations, missing or incorrectly placed tags, which signal font aspects, missing or additional parentheses and mismatched punctuation. These programs help identify serious issues in the translation. Thus, spell check and a QA function are key elements of the mechanical QA process.

However, in order to create a seamless translation, as in all forms of writing, the translation must be reread, often many times. Theoretically, the best method is to have another pair of eyes read the translation, as is required by ISO standards for translation agencies. In practice, the effective use of an outside reader requires money, time and a trusting relationship between the translator and editor, a rare combination. Instead, in the vast majority of cases, translators must reread their own document and strive to identify errors and text to improve. One technique is a focused reading of the translation that checks a limited variety of issues while ignoring others. This approach is especially useful in documents with numbers, names and complex structure but requires a great investment of time as the document must be read multiple times, each one with a different focus. Another option is to print the document and read the black and white copy, which tends to make certain issues much more visible. My favorite technique, especially for longer documents, is to read the document backwards, paragraph by paragraph, which not only creates a “new” document in the mind but also forces the reader to check each paragraph separately without connection to the previous one. Some translators read the text out loud or use the available software to have it read out loud, allowing them to identify clunky language that needs to be recrafted. It is vital to pay attention to any “red light” that pops into mind and thoroughly examine the issue. A combination of any of these techniques usually produces a polished translation.

Of course, QA requires time. While the 80/20 rule does not apply in translation, review and polishing a translation can easily reach 50% of the total time investment. The rule of thumb is that the longer the document, the more time quality assurance takes. That is the reason why larger translation projects should cost more, not less. Furthermore, the longer the document, the more breaks are required for QA as it is impossible to attentively read through 10,000 pages without many breaks. Thus, translators need to allow for QA time in both scheduling and setting rates. As a result, except for very short documents, same day delivery is a recipe for disaster in translation. Curiously enough, most deadlines easily suffer a delivery delay to the next morning or end of day. In order to provide a proper product, translators must insist on reasonable deadlines.

All products, including translation, require proper QA processes. Whether done by software or human, these processes are not a waste of time but instead are integral to the production process. For translators, like many other professionals, the reward for this insistence on QA is satisfied customers and shining above the rest. Not only is the devil in the details, they are also the key to success.

*Captions help the sight impared access information. 

Picture: Pixaby: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/openclipart-vectors-30363/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=161049">OpenClipart-Vectors</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=161049">Pixabay</a>

Industry 4.0 revolution revelation
Sun, 18 Oct 2020 04:55:00 +0000


By sheer coincidence, I participated in three online conferences this week. By greater coincidence, they all related somehow to the fourth industrial revolution. The first conference was a webinar organized by Kerem Tech, the Galil Tech and Startup Community, to introduce industrial engineering students to the real world of industry. The following day, the Braude School of Engineering had its annual pre-academic school year meeting online and discussed various aspects of the current and future distance learning. Finally, I participated in a large event organized by the Galilee Accelerator for Smart Industry, the Braude School of Engineering and various local and national government entities to discuss industry 4.0 and offer opportunities to connect aspiring startups to established enterprises. All this zooming provided me with a wave of knowledge and some understanding of the current technological revolution in terms of progress, process, leaders and personal cost.

As I learned, according to the approach, four industrial revolutions have occurred. The first one was around 1765 when industry began applying large scale mechanization. The practical application of an internal combustion engine in 1870 completed changed the landscape. In 1969, the invention and use of semiconductors introduced mass use of computers. Finally, currently, Industry 4.0 is implementation of automation to replace many functions currently done by people and create mass real-time integration of data and processes.

Like all the previous revolutions, the progress of automation has been very uneven. Smart factories, houses and even towns have been built but they represent an extremely small part of the total picture. In industry, as one speaker mentioned, in many factories, workers still manually carry out the quality control process. Even when automated systems are used, they tend to send the data to a cloud for further analysis instead of being available real-time, often due to the multiplicity of systems and data types. Education is still stuck somewhere between the second and third revolution with chairs, tables and markers co-existing with tablets, laptops and Moodle. The temporary ceasing of frontal lessons due to the Corona virus has given the development of remote learning techniques an incredible boost but afterwards the natural conservatism of the system, among other factors, will at best lead to some type of hybrid teaching structure. If someone has any doubt regarding the resisting power of tradition, the French were still making planes one at a time in 1939, some 30 years after Ford began mass production of the Model T. Thus, it is reasonable to believe that this fourth revolution will take a long time before it becomes the norm even under the pressure of the Corona and its aftermath.

Another aspect of this process that struck me was how difficult it was to simplify processes in order to allow automation. One presenter after another emphasized the need for commitment, patience and outside experts to patience create patience effective integration. In education, this same multiplicity of systems is currently complicating life for both students and lecturers, who are struggling to manage the various means of communication, each with its own logic and combination of features. However natural the revolution may seem (as in Marx and Engel’s theory of political economics), in practice, the transition is demanding in terms of physical resources and people.

Listening to the various entrepreneurs and fascinating ideas as well as the presentations on various factories and colleges that have already introduced changes to one degree or another, I noticed the driving power of people with ideas. These pioneers, young and old, see that it was not only possible but beneficial to “do it” another way. They may not fully grasp the consequences of the changes they propose but they know that the old way leads to irrelevancy and bankruptcy. The examples of IBM and Sears as well as the whole education systems pop immediately to mind. While the need to stay in business or to attract students may be the force leading to implementation, the small but growing number of process engineers, industrial and educational, are the creative power behind the revolution. Revolution involves both pushing and pulling.

Yet, as a bit of a dinosaur, I cannot help but ask one question: who benefits from revolutions? It is clear the mill owners of then and the multinational online companies today, including their stockholders, have certainly profited. On a certain level, workers overall face less physical risk and earn more than they did in the past while consumers have much wider variety of affordable items to purchase. Even today’s students have the luxury of attending the lecture when it is convenient for them and even viewing it several times. Yet, it is unclear whether the average worker, consumer or student is fundamentally happier in spite of the improvement of the material situation. This concern may be wistful, too philosophical or even irrelevant but as revolutions do not progress on an even pace, they do not benefit all parties equally.

It is my hope that the Industry 4.0 resembles the evolutions of humans under Darwin’s classic theory: slow but relentless progress. It is probable that in the future all houses and factories will resemble Asimov’s house in There will come soft rains and education will be both online and effective. Until then, I will strive to follow and enjoy the process as well as participate in further conferences.

*Captions open your pictures to the blind. 

Picture: Image by <a href="https://pixabay.com/users/geralt-9301/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3885331">Gerd Altmann</a> from <a href="https://pixabay.com/?utm_source=link-attribution&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=3885331">Pixabay</a>