Mar 042014
 

There are so many things that don’t translate between languages. I could list reams of French one-word concepts that cannot be captured quite right in English. Every time I see one of them in a text I’m supposed to be translating I cringe. Vulgarisation. Valorisation. Territoire. And then there are the turns of phrase. I understood that péter un plomb or péter un cable meant to be really pissed off, but for the longest time I had a really hard time visualizing someone farting out a bit of lead shot or wiring. In French yoga, downward facing dog is chien tête en bas. But I heard chat a tomba. The cat fell. Indeed. So my interest was piqued when I received EPFL’s weekly Science question for translation last Sunday. There is, apparently, a word – or rather, one syllable – that has the same meaning in every language in the click here to read the whole dang post [...]

Feb 122014
 
Showing up

I have a favorite website, called Brainpickings, whose curator, Maria Popova, assembles interesting, thought-provoking and inspiring things from all walks of art and literature. I can’t count the times I’ve gone down the rabbit hole of the site and emerged, hours later, thoughts spinning in new directions. You should definitely check it out. She often posts about writers’ daily routines, and what inspires them. There are so many things that can get in the way of creativity.  All these artists seem to agree on one thing, though. You can’t create if you don’t sit down and just do something.  I think photorealist Chuck Close said it best: Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

 Posted by at 9:51 pm
Jul 222012
 

It takes a long time for this old bear to learn her lessons. For the past few months I’ve tried to feed this blog and translate and run and work on my novel and keep everything going smoothly in our household and keep up with interesting things on the internet. And everything is going fine except for the novel. Somehow, all those other things are just so much more immediate. So much easier to tick off the list over the course of a day. But when the day ends and I’ve not put in the time on my writing project, I’m somehow unsatisfied.

Feb 262012
 
Open up

A couple of years ago, a co-founder of an EPFL start-up came to me for help. Their html5 video player had just gotten fantastic reviews on gizmodo, and they wanted to make sure the English on their website was good. I suggested a few corrections, he asked me how much they owed me, and I said it was on the house. I thought their product was great, their enthusiasm was palpable, and I knew they probably didn’t have much money. He was very appreciative. A few weeks ago, I translated an EPFL press release about another start-up. I visited the company’s website to check some details, and noticed that it had some serious problems. I wrote the two young co-founders an e-mail, telling them that I would be willing to help them polish the English on their website. I didn’t mention money explicitly, but I hinted that I was prepared to click here to read the whole dang post [...]

Feb 162012
 
Translation and transition

There it was this morning, on the front page. Un jury unanime plébiscite le nouveau stade de Lausanne. Lausanne is going to get a new stadium with an Olympic-size swimming pool. I’m happy about this, because I like to swim laps. I love doing flip-turns at the end of the lane, stretching out for that long glide off the wall. I love the baby-blue of pool water and the crisscrossing, wavy lines of light that form on the bottom. I love doing breast stroke and watching the bubbles form at the tips of my fingers as I carve out the water in front of me. But I digress. What really caught my attention was the word plébiscite. No matter how many times I see it, I still do a double-take. Is it just me, or is there something icky about this word? Plébiscite. Usually when I read in French I click here to read the whole dang post [...]

Oct 192011
 
Linguistic commutivity

I got the e-mail on Thursday. A translation for a client, due Monday. It was short and non-scientific, which can sometimes be a nice break. It’s good to diversify! I had a bunch of other stuff to finish up on Friday, but I said I’d do it over the weekend. Saturday at 7:15 am, I’m in the car with Luc, headed to his school for the PSAT.  We had discussed equipment the evening before.  Two pencils, an eraser. A calculator, just in case. A pencil sharpener. Fifteen minutes into the drive, I think to double check. “Do you have your pencils?” check. “Eraser? Pencil sharpener? ID?” check. check. Check. “Calculator?” Umm. Oops. What is it with my offspring and standardized testing? I utter a few choice expletives at high volume. At least this time, there’s no one else around to hear it. “I told you LAST NIGHT to get all click here to read the whole dang post [...]

Jun 242011
 
Snap!

When the first snapping turtle surfaced, village authorities were surprised. It got its picture in the paper, and an expert from the Lausanne Vivarium came and hauled it off, saying the turtle had probably been living there for ages, unnoticed. Great trepidation in Renens. These things can bite off your arm! Then a second, younger, turtle was found. Judging from its shell, the expert said it had probably been released quite recently into the pond. In a sidebar entitled “l’Italie colonisée”, we learn that snapping turtles are endemic to the Everglades, and that large established populations have been found in Alaska and in Italy. They can walk up to 40 km looking for food, weigh up to 40 kilos, and will eat anything that they come across. Birds, fish, rats, children… Thursday, a third turtle, the same size as number two, was fished from the pond. They could be sisters, said click here to read the whole dang post [...]

Jun 182011
 
Nailed

Art is what you can get away with. – Sometimes, instead of imitating life, art imitates art. This is more commonly known as forgery. If you can get away with it, I suppose you’re an artist of sorts. Here’s a real-life story of some forgers that didn’t. The picture on the front page of Thursday’s local paper caught my attention: a man in a suit, wearing a “scream” Halloween mask, climbing the steps to the Lausanne courthouse.  “The colorful theories of a gang of forgers,” the headline blared. I wanted to wear a DSK mask, said Christian*, but they asked me not to be provocative… Leonard*, aka Johnny, wasn’t as circumspect as he posed for the photographers: It’d be a shame for me to hide this handsome mug. Christian, Leonard and five others are accused of running a forgery ring, selling at least 120 forged paintings over a five-year period, for more than 400,000 Swiss francs. click here to read the whole dang post [...]

May 042011
 
Crowdsourcing Babel

In my second post on crowdsourcing, my brother Dave made this comment (spelling mistakes corrected): “You could become wealthy if you could figure out how to use crowdsourcing for translation.” Well, it’s happening! I just found out today that a group led by CAPTCHA inventor and Carnegie Mellon prof Luis von Ahn is crowdsourcing people to translate stuff under the guise of an online language course called Duolingo. (After this I’ll stop posting on crowdsourcing. For a little while. I did say it was a big iceberg, didn’t I?) Here’s how it will work. Say there’s a website in English that they want to translate into Spanish. They take the text from the website, break it down into sentences, and use these sentences as exercises in a free online English course for Spanish speakers.  A person taking the English course would read the sentence, and then enter what she thinks click here to read the whole dang post [...]

May 032011
 

Saturday I wrote a post about how I wasn’t aware of what was going on in my body, and how unsettling that felt. So unsettling, in fact, that I wasn’t able to write the post I had been planning for several days, and had to gaze intensely at my navel for a whole weekend instead. That was probably a good thing, because it gave me some new insight into this post. Navel gazing isn’t all bad. Turns out there’s some pretty interesting stuff in there. As you’ll see if you read on. Last fall I translated an article by Daniel Saraga for Reflex Magazine about the gazillions of bacteria we have living on and in our bodies. The title (in English) was “Me, Myself and I – and a million other germs.” It should actually have been “Me, Myself and I  – and 100 trillion other germs.” That’s right. A human click here to read the whole dang post [...]