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Monday, August 15, 2011

When is it too soon?

Sometimes..um, OK, all of the time when I read the news on cnn.com, I’ll check the entertainment section to see what’s going on in the entertainment world back home in the U.S. - I figure the lives of celebrities have to be more exciting than mine. Sometimes it’s worth reading, sometimes it’s not, sometimes it’s good news, but usually it’s not. One of the more recent not-good-news articles was the death of Amy Winehouse. Comments from readers ranged from heartfelt sadness to people making wisecracks about the cause of death coupled with her last name. The cause of death speculations were valid due to the facts that the news of her death came shortly after news of her being booed of off stage because she was so out of it and of her recently coming out of a stint at rehab.

Why the joking and ridiculing so soon after her passing (literally, just hours after the news broke)? Why are we so quick to demonize and have no sympathy for a celebrity that dies tragically? It should also be noted that at the time of this writing, her autopsy results are still inconclusive: her family insists that she had been clean and looking forward to life at the time of her death. I’m probably guilty of a few off-color thoughts myself that I immediately felt bad for having in the first place – but with my off sense of humor, it’s to be expected at times. When Heath Ledger died, I don’t remember people being so crass about it. Was it because his battle with drugs and alcohol was kept out of the public eye? We didn’t see him on the front page of TMZ after being arrested for a DUI? I imagine the same persecution would happen if Lindsay Lohan were to suffer the same fate.

Is it simply because we don’t recognize celebrities as having the same weaknesses that we do? They have all of this fame and disposable income – they should be able to afford to seek help. They have so many people around them all the time that can tell them when they are spinning out of control. But what if these people are the enablers? Or what if they just don’t realize it’s a problem? Sure, they might see their friend do a few lines of coke once in a while, but it’s not an everyday thing…at least as far as they know. I’m sure just about every single person out there either knows someone that has suffered with alcoholism or drug addiction or you’ve battled it yourself. Or even, heaven forbid, know someone that has died due to one or the other? Imagine, if you will, someone coming up to you and making a wisecrack about it being about time your loved one/friend died from their vise. I’d be foreseeing someone leaving with at least a black eye and maybe a few teeth missing after making such a comment. So why is it ok to say it about someone we’ve never met over an anonymous news website posting? Why do we hold our celebrities to such higher standards (other than the fact that young kids look up to a lot of them)?

If you’ve ever seen the TV show Intervention on A&E, you’ve seen some pretty crazy addiction stories. One of the few episodes that I caught a while back home was the one with the girl addicted to huffing compressed air. Wow. It was a powerful story and it just made me think, “Why can’t she see what she’s doing to herself and loved ones? Can’t she see it in her moments of sobriety?” I imagine she probably could. She lost everything, but that still wasn’t enough. I don’t remember what finally brought her out of her addiction, but I do remember that it took A LOT of work. I imagine that Amy Winehouse could see it, too. Hell, all she had to do was look at any semi-news publication or in the mirror to see what she had become.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done any reading up on addiction, so I may jumble some facts here. Addiction is a disease. For most people, the body/brain becomes dependent on the chemicals being fed to it. To overcome these cravings takes an immense amount of willpower. Which is where rehab centers come into play. They make sure these external stimulants can’t be accessed and that they’re replaced with healthier alternatives until the chemical dependency on them is to a manageable level for the patient. Being the offspring of someone with a chemical dependency can also make you more likely to be an addict – this is most notable with alcoholism. Some people realize this connection and will use it as an excuse (“Well, it’s in my blood – I have to drink”) to continue the negative behavior. Of course there are many other reasons that people will become addicted, but those are just a couple. So what was Amy’s issue? Who knows? It seems that she had drug issues before she famous, and becoming an international singing sensation just gave her the means to continue on a regular basis. If we look at it as her succumbing to a disease instead of merely taking one to many, then it is surely no laughing matter.

It seems that towards the end, though, Amy recognized that everything she had worked to achieve and everything that she was to her fans was failing miserably: She finally went to rehab despite her insistence years ago that she wouldn’t go. Until the autopsy results are final, we won’t know if it was a relapse into using that killed her or if her body had just been abused too much over the years to make it out on top just as Amy decided it was a battle worth fighting.

So while the world may have lost a talented singer that had a very public battle with addiction, some people seem to forget that lots of people lost a friend and a family lost a daughter that day.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Ya want translation with that?

Translation. Ugh. Remembering to make sure I’m writing in English that’s suitable for translation is probably the bane of my work existence. I would often prefer to be writing something that will never be translated, but since I work for an international company at their HQ, that’s pretty unrealistic. Often it’s not the actual writing that is so difficult – it’s remembering what I’m going to have to provide to the translation company. Honestly, I’d prefer we change companies for this task, but hey, that’s not my decision to make (but I am one of the ones that has to suffer due to the poor choice).

So what kind of a checklist do I try to run through in my head while writing (and later editing) my stuff?

1. Is the sentence structure simple?
2. Am I using active voice? If not, do I have a good reason for it (i.e., active voice sounds wordy or awkward)?
3. Am I using the same words to make the translation easier overall?
4. Am I using the same sentence structure? Repetition = a good thing in tech. comm. albeit boring sometimes.
5. Are the words clear? Any double meanings? Most of the translators are native speakers of the language being translated into and not English.
6. Am I re-using previous content? The translators (supposedly) have a database of some sentences/terms; however, I’ve yet to see evidence of this, but we’ll discuss that later.
7. Have I eliminated un-necessary words (typically when I’m editing other people’s work)?
8. Have I used any idioms or slang?
9. Are the technical words OK to be used and will they translate OK?
10. Do all of my user interface terms match the actual application or device?
11. Is everything labeled properly in Structured Framemaker?
12. So I need to re-iterate something or can I simply provide a link to another section?
13. Do I have any hair left to pull out?
14. Wonder how much easier it would be to have a 1-page manual that just says, “Figure it out yourself!” in every language…

And that’s without having added any images or screenshots. In addition to making sure the language that I’m using is appropriate, images have to be provided in the target language. Those present a whole new headache. Luckily for me, the developers will usually provide these for me. To make their job easier, I try to limit the number of screenshots used in a manual and make the text as clear as possible – especially if the documentation is being provided as a CHM file or HTML. You can imagine how much of a headache this can be if something is being translated into 10 languages – that’s a whole lot o’ screen capturing going on. I also have to make sure that they name the screenshots the EXACT same name that I have for the English versions, so I try to give them a list of these names when I send them a manual to review (note: they never notice and it doubles my work later to provide them a final PDF w/ every single image labeled). Basically, I have to have screenshots for all of the languages provided. If I need to write something on an image, I have to either make sure it’s editable or (and this is what I do usually) just provide a number reference to text outside of the image.

Seems simple enough. Except for a slight snag. Remember that database of terms? I don’t think it exists. I’ve had some issues where I’ve had to contact 3 different teams to ask them for their list of translated terms (e.g., driver terms, software UI terms, and hardware UI terms). Now, in my opinion, if the translators actually had a database of some of our more frequently used sentences/terms, I wouldn’t have to provide all of these various spreadsheets. Also, the terms would all match (which isn’t always the case). Oh the English is the same, but the translated terms can vary depending on who was doing the translating. Anywho, that’s just complaining about our translation team’s processes. So, I also have to remember to gather up any terms and give them to the translators so they don’t have to, you know, translate things...

So, that’s the basic process of what I run through when it comes to getting ready to have a document translated.

Here’s a bonus (not) funny story about screenshots… So I was working on a manual a couple of years ago. It had lots of helpful screenshots. Then came the time for the international screenshots….dun dun DUN!! What do I get from the project manager? A huge, nay, ginormous headache. The screenshots were named as the page numbers they were found on for every…single…image…in…every…language. Maybe 8 languages with about 200 images each? Guess who got to stay in the office overnight and rename EVERY SINGLE IMAGE so we could request translation the next day. I’ll give ya a hint: not the project manager. *sigh* Now when this particular project’s documentation needs to be updated, the PM sends someone else to tell me, and if he has to do it, he ducks and cringes after telling me. But I digress…

Translation is pretty much a necessity in today’s market if you want to do any kind of international business, but it requires a lot more thinking and work than just saying, “Hey, translate this!” to a translator. A lot of extra work and thinking has to be done and red tape has to be muddled through before it can finally become a reality.