Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Broken Story
February 22, 2011 - By: - In: Machine Translation - Comments Off on Broken Story

On account of my so-called “performance issues” at the blog, I’ve been exiled to the corner of the teletype room. The clatter is unbearable, at least with this hangover, which is how I usually like to start my mornings. Worst of all,  I’m staring at single cursor on the blank screen of my Wang word processor,  blinking, blinking, tormenting me, in perfect time with the throbbing in my temple. What could be worse than this?

“Clark! Get in here!” My master’s voice. Fan-krypton-tastic. Perry White calling me from beyond his glass door. I heave myself off my desk.

But when I enter, no Perry. Some other guy. Same type, though. Feet up on the desk, cigar, rolled sleeves, loosened tie, the whole city editor bit. “What a minute,” I say, “you’re not Perry White!”

“Very good, Clark. Very observant.” He has the patter down, too. I know this guy, by reputation at least. A chill goes down my spine.

“You’re J.J. Jameson, right? You’re the guy who brought the curtain down on Spiderman. What are you doing here?”

“That’s right, Clark. You’ve really got a nose for news, don’t you?” He puffs on his cigar.

“Now hear this. I’m your new boss. White’s out, got a golden parachute… only without the parachute. Now he’s got a line in pencils around the corner. And when security grabbed him for the old heave-ho, he told us he was on his way up to fire you, but, because the new owners of this rag hired me to do exactly the opposite of what Perry White would do, he got the bum’s rush and you get a second chance.”

A second chance. How I hate second chances. Too much pressure. But since New York State worker’s comp doesn’t accept kryptonite allergy as a disability, I need this job. Time to suck up. “Oh, congratulations, Chief. You got it right about Perry. Guy was off his rocker. We’ve got some great content up on the blog now, chief, real muffin-chokers. Hey, it isn’t news if it isn’t breaking, right? That’s my motto…”

He glares at me under those bushy eyebrows like I was already owl pellets. “What can you possibly be talking about, Clark? You are single-handedly driving TranslationGuy into the ground.”

Touché! Damn. Think fast, Clark, think fast. “Oh no, Chief. That’s the old Ken. Like just a few weeks ago, maybe you haven’t read my Google Translate exposé, ‘Google Translate is Finished!’ That was blockbuster. Bigger than Katy Perry.”

“Clark, no one read that story. And anyone who did had no idea what the hell you were talking about.”

“Well, as far as no one reading it, you had to weigh the scoop factor versus the Xmas shopping return season.  And as far as people not knowing what I am talking about, well that’s kind of the house style.”

“You said that right! Soon as they read the headline of yours, they all get a sudden urge to go stand in line at the mall,” Jameson sneers. “That headline of yours, ‘Google Translate is Finished!’, that’s house style, right?  Because no way is Google Translate going kaput anytime soon, so no one knows what you’re talking about!”

Shit. Time to act animated. “Exactly! That’s the genius part, the gotcha, Chief. Because it has a double meaning, see? By ‘finished’ I meant done, complete, compiled. No machine translation tool could ever interpret that headline correctly.”

“As in no reader can either, you idiot!” Now comes the cigar jabbing part, just like Perry used to do. “And furthermore, Clark, we’re catching a lot of grief from all these guys who say that the compilation of that tool is not complete by a long shot, despite the stuff you make up on the blog.”

Damn. This is getting bad. My second chance is starting to look like it’s hit its shelf date. Sweet Marlon Brando, save me now. “Come on, Chief. Those guys don’t know squat about machine translation. I did the math, counted it on my fingers. 1.5% better is as good as Google Translate is going to get. Once you get enough words in a statistical MT database, additional quantity loses its quality. For all the great translations those guys skyhook from all the human translation on the web, all the other unstructured stuff comes from so many different fields and modes of expression so that additional meaning is almost swamped by the additional noise.”

Silence. He doesn’t know what I’m talking about. “Those megaminds at Google don’t count on their fingers, Clark.”

“Right. They count other people’s fingers.” I grab a Sharpie and move to the white board, start sketching, “But from now on, each step they take to refine their MT databases takes them farther from their core competency, which is to sweep up every bit of data they can and manipulate for resale. How far do they intend to get into the translation business? They are going to have to figure out a way to slice that big database pie in the sky into more specific slices to improve the quality of their output―which is what guys in the translation business already do. No fait accompli, for sure, Chief.”

Fait accompli.” Jameson shakes his head. “French. You weren’t kidding about house style because I sure as hell have no idea what you’re talking about.” Now a big cloud of smoke aimed in my direction. “And let me guess. You’re going to follow up on this important industry development by burying it in a 1000 words of washed-up superhero fantasy where no one can find it.” He sighs. “OK. But one condition, you’re going to have to help me bring down that pompous jackass pal of yours, thinks he’s better than anyone else.”

“Superman unfriended me on Facebook.”

“Oh yeah? Well, if you want to keep your job you better refriend him. He’s been pretty scarce lately. I can’t remember the last time he heaved a bus through a plate glass window.”

“I hear he’s having performance issues.”

Jameson’s face lights up. “Oh yeah? Get on it, and lay off that translation mumbo jumbo, would you Clark?  Now, get out of here before I change my mind and fire your ass.”

Damn. Give me a break.  I look at my watch. It’s already 10:45, not too early for lunch and I need a break.

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