This video blog - or vlog - transports us from the start of SENSE when members communicated by letter, telephone and even fax to 30 years later with ten times as many members where members communicate via the Website, online forum and Zoom meetings.
Click here to watch.
In this new blog series, we will highlight the different Special Interest Groups (SIGs) SENSE has to offer. SIG meetings are open to all members, and guests are welcome to attend one or two meetings before deciding whether they would like to join SENSE. For upcoming SIG meetings, check the SENSE Events calendar. Contact the SIG convener for more information or to suggest a meeting topic. If you would like to start a new SIG, contact our SIG and Social Events Coordinator. In this edition, we talk to Zuid-Holland SIG convener Hans van Bemmelen.
Can you tell me a little about yourself?
I'm Hans van Bemmelen, a technical translator and writer, and a founding member of SENSE. Initially I specialised in chemical engineering, but I now cover a range of specialist subjects such as heavy lifting, remotely piloted aircraft, construction and architecture. I started translating around 33 years ago and writing about a decade ago: B2B marketing copy, and training and operating manuals. I've always been a full-time freelancer.
What is the Zuid-Holland SIG and who is it for?
It does what it says on the tin. Though I suspect some of our members may be aliens from across the provincial borders – which is good. At our most recent Zoom meeting, we even had a participant from Groningen.
How did the Zuid-Holland SIG get started?
The group seems to come and go. I set up its current incarnation – the third, I think – in 2015. We have most of the meetings at my home in The Hague as it is relatively easy to reach by public transport and by car.
How often does the Zuid-Holland SIG meet up?
Not as often as we should, just a few times a year.
How many people generally attend Zuid-Holland SIG meetings?
Around eight. Our members cover nearly the entire language professional spectrum: editing, writing and translating. They also deal with a wide range of subjects. At several of our meetings we've discussed more technical issues, like how to get the best from your computer and software. That inspired our member Jenny Zonneveld to set up the SENSE Tech SIG.
When and where will the next Zuid-Holland SIG meeting be?
We haven't decided that yet, perhaps early July. We'll also have to decide whether to have that on Zoom or physically (with appropriate distancing), perhaps outdoors.
If you'd like to attend the next Zuid-Holland SIG meeting, be sure to keep a close eye on the Events page for details!
Eight or so of us met up on Zoom on the evening of 13 May. This time we had a text to look at. This one was a marketing brochure about a specific piece of equipment used in manufacturing industrial vehicles. Although it had some technical terms for the parts, they were largely searchable, and the other translation issues were clear. Among the questions we agreed should be asked were who the intended audience was, and if the English translation was to be a source text for translation into other languages. There was also a discussion about whether the ‘lifting/raising’ metaphor (relevant to the type of machine) in the opening sentence was intentional or not, and if it should be translated as such to add a little humour or whether it was by now a tired old joke in that world.
This text was especially interesting because of what happened after the translator sent in the translation. This agency always asks the translator to take a final look at the revised text, as a final ‘pre-delivery check’. Good practice, we agreed, and something that should not take much time. The excitement at the SIG meeting came when we saw what the agency revisor had changed. The first paragraph was a sea of tracked changes. The revisor had changed an active (and attractive) marketing-style translation into a literal translation, full of passive constructions that had sucked the life out of it.
We agreed that a revisor’s job should not entail this much work in the first place (unless there are real mistakes, of course, but this translator knows the client company very well, and the revisor was perhaps a little wet behind the ears), and that in no way was the revised text ‘fit for purpose’. At that point we were all looking forward to what Brian Mossop would have to say about revising texts in his talk at the SENSE conference on 3-5 June.
The next meeting should be on 8 July. Check the Events page for details as the time approaches.
I received an email from Angie Sullivan about the abysmal low rates that an agency ironically called ‘Fairlingo’ pays translators, which means that they can hardly make a living. Then I read about Amazon paying ‘ghost workers’ even less and, more recently, I read a BBC article on the BBC website that explains how artificial intelligence is putting journalists out of work. I think that these trends represent important challenges for members of SENSE, so I decided to write a short piece about them.
The Ghost Economy
There’s something decidedly odd going on behind the veil of the world wide web. Anthropologist Mary Gray and computer scientist Siddharth Suri have revealed how a wide range of services (e.g. those offered by firms such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft and Uber) depend on ‘ghost workers’ who work under appalling conditions. These poorly paid people make the internet look smart. The kind of work they do includes labelling, editing, moderating, and sorting information.
According to Gray and Suri, “An estimated 8 percent of Americans (20 million people) work in this ‘ghost economy’, and that number is growing. They earn less than the legal minimum wage (some work for as little as 80 cents per hour; the average is 2 dollars per hour), they have no health benefits, and they can be fired at any time, for any reason or none.” This almost makes the miserable translation rates paid by an agency called (you can’t make it up!) Fairlingo seem reasonable! They pay novices 3 eurocents and experienced translators 6 eurocents per word. ‘Experts’ receive 8 eurocents.
Ghost workers also train machine-learning algorithms. For example, the Financial Times stated that Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website is “an online marketplace for chores that are done by people sitting in front of a computer.” It’s also been described as a ‘human cloud’. The platform has been around for more than more than a decade, but the tasks ghost workers perform are changing. Now, they are helping to build data sets that allow computers to answer seemingly simple questions – questions that humans can easily answer, but machines can’t.
In the era of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the ghost trainer’s task is becoming even more important. Computers are capable of a lot more than when Mechanical Turk was first launched in 2005: they can identify images, read text and even write sentences. These days, computers more and more often draft a text while humans check it.
In fact, in this brave new world, Microsoft recently announced that their news stories will in future be selected and edited by artificial intelligence, putting a large number of journalists out of work – – a decision that has already backfired. Is this perhaps a sign of things to come? If so, then we will need to demonstrate our added value as translators, editors and writers. We may well become curators of information, providing analysis and insight, and we should be paid professional rates for doing that important job.
The SENSE Ed Special Interest Group for educators has been meeting up online every Friday since the end of March. These weekly meetings will soon be coming to an end, so if you'd like to join the final session on 29 May, don't forget to log onto the website and register via the Events page. To help you decide whether you’d like to join in, here’s what SENSE member Ann Bless has to say about the meetings.
I joined this Zoom group with fear and trepidation, since I had very little experience with online teaching and had the feeling that everyone was far more experienced than I was.
How wrong I was! Indeed there were people with more experience but I soon felt that I could ask any question without feeling stupid. In all the 30 years that I have been running courses on scientific writing, I had never dreamed that I would one day have to teach online, so hearing other teachers’ failures and successes was very helpful.
Every Friday from 14.00–15.00, about 10 of us meet up under the patient leadership of Sally Hill, who has to cope with a group of rather chatty teachers sharing their views on online teaching. Most of us use Zoom. We not only share information on technological subjects, such as break outs, how to show a PowerPoint and when to use Canvas, but also talk about how we feel about teaching to faces only. How far do we have to adapt our courses? Do we enjoy teaching online? Do we long to go back to normal teaching, and what help do we get from the institutions we work for?
A bonus for me is that I meet up with SENSE friends and colleagues again; I left the Netherlands in 2003 and now live in Switzerland. Even though I try and attend SENSE meetings when I am in the country, a weekly meeting with colleagues and friends is a real treat. I have the coronavirus to thank for that. When we are back to normal I shall miss you all!
Last time, we shared SENSE members’ top tips on managing your daily lockdown schedule with children around. This week, we take a look at ways to manage stress and look after your mental health during the lockdown.
Give yourself (and others) a break
There is no way to be the best parent and best worker at the same time. This is definitely a time to cut yourself some slack. And lockdown is stressful on everyone. Understanding that your family members are also under pressure and trying to support them can make your home a more peaceful place. Here’s what our parenting team have to say:
'My coping mechanism is to maintain a positive mentality so that I can care for my children and get my work done. I focus on how lucky I am to be able to work from home and that my business is doing well. My children and I are safe, and that hospitals here in Germany are not overburdened, so we can get the treatment we need should we get infected. I think myself lucky that we live in a remote rural area that allows us to get out of the house and be in the countryside for hours every day without breaking social distancing rules.' (Claire Bacon)
'Another tip would be to take as many walks as possible – while maintaining proper distance from others, of course. I generally try to build in half an hour of walking by myself every day, without doing anything 'productive' – no looking at e-mails, no thinking about work. During peak time or bad weather, I try to schedule one-on-one meetings as phone calls rather than video conferencing, so I can at least walk around the house at the same time to get some exercise.' (Ashley Cowles)
'I’ve been quoting longer for deadlines so I can spend a bit more time with my family when I’m on a break, make sure I’m available if there’s a nappy explosion or similar, put our eldest down for an afternoon nap, etc. We’ve recently been going for walks together just before or after lunchtime too. This ‘structure with flexibility’ works for us because my wife is on maternity leave. If she were back at work, it’d be a different story.' (Lloyd Bingham)
'My best hot tip about working from home in the Coronavirus Era is to be utterly pragmatic and Zen-like about the situation. This means:
• Not worrying too much about our efforts at home-schooling because the results are never going to be as good as what a professional teacher would have achieved in a real classroom;
• Accepting the fact that it’s better just to continue practising bits and pieces of schoolwork rather than nothing at all;
• Deciding to be pleased about the ease with which our kids (9 and 11) adapt to the various online meeting places, whether that’s Google Classrooms and Google Meet or TikTok and Star Stable (yes, they’re mad about horses);
• Prioritising our own paid work over home-schooling, even if it means knowing that we’re working upstairs while the kids are just watching Nickelodeon and gorging on crisps for hours on end downstairs;
• Focusing on the positives: when there’s less work around, there’s more time to do the admin and other business tasks that never get done;
• Realising that lots of people are in the same situation, and that the really important things are to stay healthy and sane.' (Cathy Scott)
'Don’t try to give clients the impression that you’re not working from home with your kids in the background. Our clients understand the situation, and it’s ok to show them that you’re human, too.' (Curtis Barrett)
'I am open and honest with my clients about my situation and I am asking for longer-than-usual deadlines. One advantage of these strange new circumstances is that I now have no problem turning clients away who want to haggle over my rates! I always struggled with this before, but these days it is very easy.' (Claire Bacon)
'Remember this isn’t a time to bust your gut at excelling at everything and ensuring your kids do too. They’re upset, disorientated, and missing their friends, activities and normal rhythm. Meanwhile, you have to work. There have to be compromises, and you might as well make things as pleasant for everyone as possible. We make allowances for the fact that kids sometimes need to explode in frustration and express their worries – sometimes through bad behaviour.' (Cathy Scott)
'My two boys are very good at playing together, but of course they interrupt me when I work. If I find myself getting frustrated (which happens if I am working on a particularly difficult edit), I take deep breaths. I do not want to get angry with my kids because their dad is away in the army and they deserve my understanding. The daily walks help a lot with this frustration – I am so grateful that we are allowed to go outside!' (Claire Bacon)
The phrase ‘new normal’ seems here to stay. This means that for the foreseeable future, programs such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Skype will be ‘must-have’ tools for language professionals like us.
This is bad news for folks like me who are…well…technologically and photogenically challenged, shall we say?
So I thought I would break down some of the mistakes I’ve made as I adjusted to this new way of working. I hope that you can benefit from my ineptitude. Here goes.
I didn’t download the program before I used it
This seems like a no-brainer. But I clicked on an email invitation link 30 seconds before a meeting, only to be bombarded by program download pop-ups, set-up choices and computer re-booting. Hard to participate in a meeting when you’re cursing at your screen. Not that I would ever do that.
I didn’t practice with my program
I bought an official Zoom license (shout out to my business partner Steve Schwartz who initiated this), and thought I was set. Then I entered my first meeting and realized I hadn’t set optimal parameters to my liking. This meant I was fiddling with settings when I should have been participating. Before I ran my first workshop, I practiced some dry runs with my wife to make sure I could start, run and end a meeting seamlessly, including things like sharing my screen and sound, and so on. This taught me an important lesson, which I immediately forgot when I started using Microsoft Teams, only to be faced with a new interface. I looked like an amateur (see above).
I sat in the dark
I work in a home office with the blinds closed and a warm legal lamp to my left. I do this on purpose because I’m weird, and I don’t want the real world intruding on my headspace when I’m writing. But this means that during my first video meetings, people saw a dim outline of my upper body and face, deep in shadow. To remedy this, I turned the lamp to my face. This did an excellent job of lighting up the left lower part of my jawline, so that I looked like a camp counsellor with a flashlight under my chin telling a campfire ghost story. Not cool. So I opened the window blinds to my left (the horror, the horror). This immediately sent a blinding shaft of white light onto my left side, giving half of me a pale, ghost-like appearance, with the other half still in shadow. Remember I told you I’m not photogenic? Well, this was downright scary.
The answer is to move to a room where you can have direct lighting – preferably daylight – in front of you. But what if it’s dark outside? Then think about buying a ring lamp. I knew about ring lamps from YouTubers, who use them to illuminate their faces in a uniform way while they’re pretending to ‘react’ to songs they have heard one gazillion times, for fun and profit. And such. But I digress. These ring lamps really do work – you can adjust the colour and strength of the illumination, and when placed correctly in front of you, they provide clear visibility in an even way. They vary in size and price, but hey, you can charge them to your business, and they do help.
I looked down
I held some of my first online meetings on my laptop, which I placed on the desk in front of me. As one does. This meant that I was looking down on the other participants like I was examining an ant on the sidewalk. I’ve seen others do the same. It is very disconcerting, somewhat reminiscent of that famous upwards shot in Citizen Kane, and even a little spooky.
Now I place my laptop or webcam just above my eyeline. It forces me to look up, which has two main advantages. My face is illuminated properly and my double chin isn’t as prominent. My 16- year-old self just cringed.
I didn’t look at the camera
One of the hardest things to achieve in virtual meetings is eye contact. I spent many meetings looking at the faces of participants on the screen or – even worse – looking off to the side at my second screen. It looked like I wasn’t paying attention, or that I was bored, or that I was working on other things. None of which were true. Okay, maybe I was a little bit bored during all that talk about budgets, but I certainly didn’t mean to appear that way. Also, be aware that your eyes are extremely visible in on-screen meetings. Test this out: video chat with a friend, then have them look at the screen and move just their eyes left and right. They will look shifty and strange. That’s how you will look too.
So I learned to look at the camera. This means that when I am listening and talking, I am almost always looking directly into the camera, which means I am looking directly at the other participants in the meeting from their perspective. It kinda sucks from my perspective, because I lose that ‘personal contact’ feeling from my end. I spend little time looking at the people I’m talking to, because they are below the camera on the screen. But the important thing is that they see me looking that them: I appear interested and fully engaged.
I had a messy background
During my first online meetings, I didn’t think at all about what was behind me. And because I was usually in my office, what was behind me was a large wall-to-wall bookcase overflowing with double-layered books, souvenirs, messy boxes of papers and files, random Post-its and whatnot. After a few comments, I cleaned up the bookcase, adjusted the camera for an optimal angle, and the comments stopped.
Now, I am fully aware that bookcases are a hot topic of online ridicule, as all media types strive to put at least a few books behind them to look erudite. So I have experimented with two solutions. The first works well – a ‘blur the background’ option in Microsoft Teams. I really like it. The second doesn’t work so well…yet. It’s the ‘choose your own background’ option in Zoom. They have a small variety of cheesy pictures, or you can upload an image, like your business logo, which I tried. The problem is that you will look like you are cut-and-pasted onto the screen like a bad 80’s movie. Perhaps this will improve.
Other things I have learned
I am now running more online training sessions than ever. Here is what I have learned:
What have you learned?
I’d love to hear what others have learned about online meetings as we all navigate this ‘new normal’ together. Join the discussion on the SENSE Member Forum and let me know!
Juggling parenting and work can be challenging at the best of times. But throw in a global pandemic and nationwide lockdown, and things start to get really tricky! Suddenly we have to find a way to work efficiently from home with the kids around.
Perhaps one of the most reassuring things to hear right now is: you are not alone! In fact, the very same group of SENSE members who will be hosting a panel session on mixing parenting and professional life at the SENSE2020 online conference on 3-5 June are now on hand to share their advice on managing the current crisis. So sit back, pour yourself a glass of wine, and read on for some top tips…
Find a schedule that works for you
There is no right way to manage a lockdown. Every family will face different situations and have different needs. But it might help to hear how others are structuring their day. Here’s what our parenting team has to say:
'Make a schedule at the start of the day with your kids and your partner. If there’s a fixed time when you need to be in a video conference with a client, let the rest of the family know. And if your partner has a time when he/she cannot be disturbed, make sure they’re not disturbed by running interference with the kids.' (Curtis Barrett)
'I am alone with my two boys because my husband was called into the army. I get up before the kids to fit in some work, but give them my full attention when they wake up. We do ‘schoolwork’ together and then we do an arts and crafts project or play a game for a few hours. After that, I explain that I need to work and shouldn't be interrupted (I’ve relaxed my rules on screen time to help with this). I try to get around four hours of work done before we go outside to play.' (Claire Bacon)
'What works for us is setting clear boundaries on "work time" versus "family time", so our coworkers know when they can reasonably expect us to respond to issues and emails. (My husband and I both work in-house, which comes with a slightly different set of expectations than freelancing.) We each get half a day to work upstairs and theoretically undisturbed, while the other cares for the children. We get up at our regular time and have breakfast together, then my husband goes upstairs to work until lunchtime. Lunch is usually a moment for the two of us to catch up, since the kids have theirs a little earlier. After that, we "switch hats" for the afternoon: I'm off to the attic while my husband corrals the kids until dinnertime. Depending on our workload and deadlines, we'll designate one or two evenings a week to work for another few hours, but we know it's important to have downtime too.' (Ashley Cowles)
'I’m in a different position (mainly because I’m in the fortunate position of not having children of school age yet) and can therefore offer another perspective of what could work. I’m the main breadwinner in the house, and my wife is still on maternity leave, so there’s no tag- teaming when it comes to work. This means she mostly looks after our 18-month-old and 5-month-old during the day while I work. I get up with our eldest so my wife can sleep for a bit longer. Then I broadly stick to a 9-to-5 routine. I’m upstairs in my office and the three of them are downstairs in the living room or kitchen. Then when I’m done for the day, one of us will cook dinner. After dinner, I get the eldest ready for bed and take her upstairs. Then, after which we generally get the evening together to chill out (as much as one can with a 5-month-old, anyway). I go out for a run every two or three days around this time.' (Lloyd Bingham)
'Most of us are used to working at home, but not necessarily with our the entire household there as well. So try to make sure your work day doesn’t start before 9 and doesn’t go past 5.' (Curtis Barrett)
For more tips and tricks, be sure to check back for part two later this month!
In the late 1980s I was working in the editorial office of an international geophysical journal and had joined the European Association of Science Editors (EASE). The first EASE meeting I attended was a ‘wow’ moment – gosh, there were other people struggling to make sense of scientific manuscripts written by non-native speakers! Back in the Netherlands, I started seeking out other editors. In 1989 Joy Burrough published a letter in the EASE journal about Dunglish and had contact with another editor, Victoria Thatcher. I wrote to Joy and this led to the first tea party where 10 editors met, held in Wageningen in July 1989. This was followed by a more serious meeting in Zeist in November where we decided to set up an official society. The embryonic SENSE soon expanded by word-of-mouth, and through the membership lists of EASE and WERK (Wetenschappelijk redacteurenkring, long defunct).
SENSE’s network proved its usefulness early on, as we spent hours on the phone trying to check terminology with each other (no e-mail or internet then, just paper dictionaries, a fax and a dial-up modem for transferring very small text files to translation agencies). How technology has totally changed our profession since 1990 could be the topic of a historical essay.
When I first wrote to Joy by snail mail in the spring of 1989 I had little idea of what would grow from our desire to talk to other editors and discuss the problems we were encountering. Early committees overcame limited financial resources and the problems of dealing with big egos (people who take initiative and set up a society are generally not the timid type). I’m hugely proud to see SENSE reach its 20th anniversary as an active society with 375 members covering such a wide variety of subjects and expertise. The boost from the e-mail forum has long ensured that some form of the society will continue to exist, whatever the ups and downs various committees may face.
This article was originally published in eSense 20 (September 2010, available to SENSE members only). The SENSE Historical Archives contain a newsletter published in 1995, in which fellow founding members Jackie Senior and Joy Burrough-Boenisch have compiled the timeline in more detail. The society’s ‘history’ can also be traced through the following publications:
At the end of March, we had to announce the cancellation of our 2020 Jubilee Conference in Maastricht to comply with government measures on covid-19. To make something positive from all the doom and gloom, we are pleased to announce that the conference will now take place online in the afternoons of 3, 4 and 5 June 2020. For this online format, we have reduced and simplified the prices of conference and workshop tickets. How's that for good news?
The pre-conference workshops we had planned in Maastricht will now take place as a series throughout May and June, so you can attend as many as you wish. You can register for a workshop or for the conference up to 16:00 on the day before it starts. Once we have received your payment, you will be sent the access codes required to attend.
Paul Beverley workshop now incorporated into 2020 Conference programme
On 16 May, Paul Beverley will kick off the 2020 Conference workshop series with his highly anticipated workshop on macros for MS Word. If you are starting with zero knowledge of macros, the training will lead you through from square one. But for those of you who have already been using some macros, there will be plenty of scope for learning new tips and tricks. As there are well over 700 macros available (!), there is always something new to help you boost your effectiveness as a writer, an editor or a translator. So whether you are a 'macro newby' or a seasoned and serious devotee, there’s bound to be something new for you to take away from the day’s sessions
Paul Beverley has been creating macros for use by editors and proofreaders for over 13 years. The macros (over 700 of them) are freely available via his website and are used in more than 40 countries. Despite being of pensionable age, he enjoys editing far too much to stop altogether, so he occasionally edits technical books and theses. He has also produced more than 100 training videos, so that you can see the macros in action on his YouTube channel.