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 A computer journal for translation professionals

Issue 14-6-237
(the two hundred thirty seventh edition)  


1. The Translator Must Always Be the Boss! (Premium edition)

2. Excelling Beyond Measure

3. Cross with Across

The Last Word on the Tool Box


So, yes, I finally started using a smart phone a few months ago -- my wife told me that she'd had enough of all the fremdschämen she went through when she imagined me trotting around the globe, speaking about technology, and carrying a pre-Graham-Bell cell phone -- and I now use it very happily when I'm traveling. It's lovely (and frightening) to be in touch with clients and partners through email and social media from, well, anywhere. (If you read German, I would recommend Siggi Armbruster's clever article on the dual nature of availability in the translation world.) And clearly that's a big part of what our job is about: communication. However, the core part of our job -- translation -- is still a long way from being used productively in a mobile environment (I consider hybrid solutions like some keyboarded tablets no more mobile than notebook computers).

It struck me the other day that until we don't see "Sent from a mobile device. Please excuse any typos" at the bottom of emails, we won't be using our mobile devices in a truly productive fashion. 


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1. The Translator Must Always Be the Boss! (Premium edition)

National Transportation Safety Board chairman Christopher Hart said this about the investigation into the 2013 crash of an Asiana Airlines plane in San Francisco: "... we have learned that pilots must understand and command automation, and not become over-reliant on it. The pilot must always be the boss." When I heard this on the radio this week, a big smile appeared on my face. What a perfect illustration of what I would like to share about translators and machine translation!

Recently I was invited to represent translators as a speaker at the European Association of Machine Translation conference, and I'm happy to report that it was a very rewarding event. One of the points in my presentation was a call to put an end to the assumption that post-editing is the only and most productive way to use machine translation.

You see, I think that we've looked at machine translation from only one angle -- that of post-editing -- and judged its effectiveness and desirability from that single perspective. And it's no wonder that the majority of professional translators haven't embraced post-editing of machine translation (PEMT). In the PEMT process, the proposed machine translation is the driving force; it is the agent (or -- to use the NTSB chairman's words -- "the boss"), and it objectifies the translator or post-editor who is reduced to a purely reactive role...

. . . you can find the rest of this really important article (if I may say so myself...) in the premium edition. If you'd like to read more, an annual subscription to the premium edition costs just $25 at Or you can purchase the new edition of the Translator's Tool Box ebook and receive an annual subscription for free.



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2. Excelling Beyond Measure

Yes, I've mentioned ASAP Utilities before, but the point is this: Can you who have used this super-helpful tool for all these years after you first read about it in the Tool Box Journal imagine the joy it brings to someone who has never heard of it and will now discover it?

The guy behind ASAP Utilities is pretty good about talking up his tool himself, so I will him let do that job on his website. But if you, like most translators, still have to deal with Excel-based data quite a bit and sometimes wish that you had more flexibility to manipulate the data in almost any way you see fit, you should make use of the more than 300 individual tools that ASAP Utilities offers right within Excel.

Some of my favorite functions include the ability to count characters in individual cells, helpful formatting and selection functions, and filtering options that I did not even know existed.

There is a free version you can use, but after using it for many years I have actually decided to pay up (and I felt really good about myself afterward).

Please note that the tool will not work if you are using a 64-bit version of Excel.

Another Excel tool that I have not used myself but for which I have the very reliable recommendation of Renato Reinau (who as a dual citizen of Argentina and Switzerland must feel pretty good about himself in relation to all things football right now...).

Synkronizer is a tool that allows you to compare and merge two Excel files in very advanced ways, something that could be particularly useful when dealing with different versions of glossaries. You can find more information right here


3. Cross with Across

Across is a translation environment tool that many love to hate -- more on that later -- but there are actually some -- even translators -- who really like it. While numbers are not always the best indicators, they still have some validity, and here are some that were given to me a couple of months ago by the folks from Across. The free version for freelancers and students had a total of 26,979 users with about 900 new monthly registrations. Those numbers may not really be that meaningful because any and every translator who ever worked with a client who used Across had to download and register it -- and many several times -- but here is a number that is more meaningful: worldwide there are 950 Across server installations, 65% of which are translation buyers and 35% LSPs.

Now Across is just about to release version 6, and I had a chance to talk with Across's Christian Weih about it. In general I think it would be fair to say that the new version will be focused primarily on the server users with a number of business-friendly features. This is not surprising. Not only are those the two groups that actually pay for the product, but Across has also spent a fair amount of effort talking to these two user groups with events like the LSP Day they just convened.

Christian did promise, though, that in the next version there will be significantly more emphasis on the translation aspect of the tool, which will include invitations to groups of translators who will help shape some of the translation interface that many feel is not particularly ergonomic and user-friendly. One of the features that will be introduced at that point will be the ability to work directly in the translation grid rather than in a separate area like some other tools also offered in the 1990s.

Back to the new version at hand. The new features include a new engine with a much smaller footprint on your computer -- some of you might yawn when you read that, but those who have used Across, especially some of the very resource-heavy earlier versions, will be delighted.

The "What do you want to do" that is displayed when you open Across (which I personally always found kind of silly) is now replaced with a "Dashboard". This Dashboard is sort of reminiscent of the Windows 8 tile view (the Across tiles are called "dashlets") but potentially more useful. Folks who work in Across for most of the day will be able to place customizable links for all kinds of Across and non-Across resources and applications. For those who use Across in a more limited fashion, it will probably not be too relevant.

For project managers, the "Cockpit" (hey, I'm trying to be kind and not make fun of all these names) will probably be the most relevant new feature. Project management was rather rigid (Christian's own words) in Across, with very few ways to customize; now the Cockpit view, which is the central control console with all the projects listed for the project manager, can be filtered and adjusted to any criteria.

For the business manager, the "Data Cube" should be the most relevant feature. The Data Cube is a business intelligence module that allows you to run a large number of preconfigured and customizable reports in Excel, based on data that is automatically extracted from Across. Really the only translation environment tool that I'm aware of that is able to produce a similar range of reports with such ease is Wordbee. I was quite impressed with that feature, and I also liked the fact that it's done within Excel, which not only is the most familiar environments for "business types" but also makes it very easy to share the reports.

Another element that I find interesting is the web-based review mode that includes a change history, a nice feature for customer edits without having to install the desktop client.

As a side note, I thought it was remarkable that for the last few years, development efforts for Across have taken place first in the web client (which typically is harder to program) and are then ported to the desktop client to assure as much feature parity as possible.

For some groups within the translation chain, the new version 6 should be a welcome new version. For translators it probably does not make that much of a difference -- and hopefully this will be different in the next version.

Before I end, let me make a few comments about a topic that has caused a measure of anger among some in the world of translation.

There is a certain kind of political correctness when it comes to technology in general, and translation technology in particular. The "correctest" political correctness is to say that "the tool that we develop supports open exchange standards because we believe in an open world where users can choose whatever they like." Virtually every tool vendor makes this claim and does more or less support the typical standards, including TMX, TBX, and XLIFF, even though no tool vendor truly wants users to choose whatever tool -- that would be business folly.

Across has never supported exchange standards and has recently found that this is actually a marketing message that might just work for the business segment they are aiming at. There is no other company with the gall to say publicly, "We don't believe in open project exchange formats" -- as Christian Weih did earlier this week (again). Some (including some of you) have really, really strong sentiments about that and are not shy to express those, but whenever I hear him say that, I can't help but smile. We are not a monolithic industry. We are like a quilt made up of many patches with very, very different interests. If Across customers either ask for a closed system that prevents data being taken out or external data being brought in, or if Across is able to convince them that's in their best interest, let them be. It's not great for translators -- I know that, I am one myself and I have (rarely) worked with Across -- but it might just be the way to get to those clients who will either like it or at some point realize that this is not the most current of concepts and then change technology.

For now, I can't but admire Across's honesty and marketing savvy -- and if other developers are really honest, unless they are developing open source software, I imagine there is an element of respect they have for this "my way or the highway" kind of attitude. Even though they would never admit to it.



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