Quality Control, Part V

Catch up!  Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV!!


Scene I

Back at the Sacramento office, 9:00 am. Linda is clearing off her desk while her computer sputters to life. She feels a small relief because the computer is laboring over the security updates it has to finish installing thus giving her an extra few minutes before she must dive into the day. Next to a pile of dead pens and paper-clip art, old Post-its are accumulating in a pastel-colored pile: the ticket number from when Linda’s computer was acting buggy, six-month-old project numbers, the contact info, that is now in the system, of a guy in Cairo who does good DTP work into Arabic. All of this clutter that was encroaching on and appropriating Linda’s workspace was unceremoniously swept into the trash can with a satisfying CLANK. Liberated from these encumbrances, Linda felt physically lighter, too; like when she finally got that pixie haircut after years of wearing her thick curly hair au naturel down to the middle of her back.

The start-up screen finally appears; Linda types in her password, logs in and starts clicking around the computer. Outlook, Trados, the database, Internet Explorer, which she has customized to open the New York Times page, ProZ and the Qualitrans employee portal. Outlook finally settles in and displays “Inbox (83)“. A number that, two months ago, would have sent her into a mini panic is simply absorbed into the morning routine. Linda is happy she finally got Tommy to help her configure her rules and filters so the 83 unread emails were already in the appropriate folders and sub-folders according to sender, urgency, project and subject. Linda is opening her employee messenger when Tommy barges in a bit more jittery than usual.

LINDA: Mornin’, Tommy. What’s the matter?

TOMMY: Oh, nothing, just, I almost got clipped again on Bay and 7th. (With that he heaves his backpack and bike helmet into the corner and mashes the power button of his computer with a sweaty thumb) That’s like five times in the last month. I mean, HELLLLLLOOOOO share the road!

LINDA: Sorry to hear that. But you’re OK, right?

TOMMY: Yea, I’m fine. Just fired up. And I got this thing with Bill today. UGGH. Something went wrong with the Granver project…I don’t know. The files didn’t upload right or something on Friday so we got to call and tell them and smooth things over.

(From his office) BILL: Tommy? That you? Twenty minutes and we’re calling Granver.

TOMMY: (To Bill) Got it, Bill. (To Linda) UUUUUGGGGGGGGGGHHHHH.

Linda has two emails from Hristo from the night before; his response to her last email to him is projected above.

LINDA: …Tetris accelerator? What the… (She leans forward  toward the monitor and re-reads the email) Tommy? You know what a Tetris accelerator is?

TOMMY: Huh? A what?

LINDA: A Tetris accelerator.

TOMMY: … Uh. No. I was a Sega kid. I played Columns. And Sonic the Hedgehog until they came out with that mutant two-tailed squirrel thing. But I was hella good at Columns, I still have the high score.

LINDA: Oh yeah? At an arcade or something?

TOMMY: What? No! On my Sega.

LINDA: You have the high score on your own game?

TOMMY: Yeah, of course I do. (Looks at Linda perplexedly).

Linda sighs audibly and re-reads the email.

LINDA: I can’t find what a Tetris Accelerator is anywhere! I Googled it. I Binged it. I even—

TOMMY: HAHAHAHA! Wait wait wait! You BINGED it? Why?! Why don’t you just ask Jeeves what it is!! HAHAHAHAHA!!

LINDA: What’s so funny? They come up with different results! Have you ever looked…oh, never mind.

TOMMY: No, wait. (Trying to suppress laughter) Do you still have a AOL account?

LINDA: What? I don’t use it anymore. Just for signing up for things.

TOMMY: BWAHAHAHAHAHA! I gotta show you this thing from The Oatmeal…

LINDA: You’re not helping. Hristo told me he doesn’t have a Tetris Accelerator. Or even know what one is. Is that some quantum encryption software thing?

TOMMY: I don’t know. Why don’t you ask Lycos to fetch it for you!!

LINDA: OK! Enough! What am I supposed to do?

TOMMY: (Finally coming down after his fit of laughter) Just email him back and ask to clarify.

LINDA: You’re telling me to email him and ask him about exactly what he asked me about?

TOMMY: Sure. Why not? You got time? I mean, maybe he misunderstood something.

LINDA: (Getting slightly defensive) Misunderstood what? We were emailing, not on the phone or anything.

TOMMY: OK, but you know, emails are, like, the worst medium of communication. There are no signals or outside context like facial expressions or body language. Shit, even a phone call is a hundred times more communicative because you can inflect your voice and stuff. Plus, it’s immediate so you know right away if there has been a misunderstanding. Emails are misconstrued all the time. Excitement confused with anger, sarcasm confused with being a jerk. People who write in all caps always seem like they’re yelling when in reality maybe grandpa just doesn’t know how to turn caps lock off. Emoticons? Little smileys to help convey humor or…I don’t know, that you’re joking? Emails are rife with potential miscommunications. I think The Oatmeal has something on that too…

LINDA: Maybe you’re right, I’ll–

TOMMY: Duh, Lin!

LINDA: Right. (Shoots Tommy a disgruntled look) I guess I’ll take a look at the email thread before I contact him, just in case.

Tommy gets up and goes to Bill’s office. Linda goes over last night’s email conversation with Hristo. The emails thread is projected above and scrolls down in real time as she reads out loud bits and pieces of them and murmurs the rest of them.

LINDA: …I do it like is real job…what is your rate…for the test translation there is no rate…budget for the actual project…given your Tetris Accelerator? I wrote that? How? Tommy, I wrote Tetris Accelerator…Tommy? (Linda swivels around in her pleather executive chair to see that Tommy is not in the office) Riiiight. (Linda clicks and opens the other email from Hristo and finds the test translation attached. She starts typing a response, it is projected)

“Dear Hristo,

Thank you for your emails. I have received the test translation and will pass it along for grading.

I also want to clear up this thing with the Tetris Accelerator. I don’t know how that got into the email but if you don’t know what it is and I don’t know what it is, then we should just forget about it because it was weird that it even appeared on my message to you. I will be in touch as soon as I know something about your test.

Assuming your test is OK, I would have budget to offer you USD$400, there are about 15,000 no-match words and 86 repetitions. Would you be able to do this by this Friday?

Thanks in advance.


(Linda peeks her head out and sees that Tommy is finishing up with Bill. She gets up and makes her way to Bill’s office, passing Tommy.)

LINDA: By the way, Tommy. I wrote Tetris Accelerator to Hristo originally. I don’t even remember.

TOMMY: Heh. We’re you drinking?

LINDA: No! I was at home, I was emailing from my phone.

TOMMY: What kind of phone you got?

LINDA: An old iPhone. Why?

TOMMY: Aha. I think you DYAC’ed (pronounces it Deeyacked)

LINDA: Excuse me?



TOMMY: Damn You Auto Correct? No? Jeez, Lin, for someone who spends all day in front of a computer, you know nothing about this type of stuff.

LINDA: What kind of stuff?

(Tommy chuckles, shakes his head and goes back to their office. Linda goes into Bill’s)

LINDA: Hey, Bill. You got a minute?

BILL: Yeah. But make it quick, I got some calls to make. Whatcha need?

LINDA: So, I found a Bulgarian translator for the Compuloq project and he’s done the test translation…

BILL: Great! Sounds like you got everything under control. Is that it?

LINDA: Er..no, you see…I have no one to look at the test. I mean, I have such a low budget that I can’t even offer him a good rate and I definitely can’t afford to pay someone else just to look at his test to see if it’s good. I…um…came in under budget on the Breckman job, could I just pull some budget from there to pay someone to look at this? He really is the only Bulgarian I could find who was qualified and didn’t already have a rate with us in the database…I mean, this shi–project is really technical.

BILL: Hmmmm. No. I don’t want you to get into the habit of trying to justify costs as a function of other jobs, I can’t risk not making my numbers on your memory of how much you came under by.

LINDA: I’m not just remembering, it’s in the datab–

BILL: Nope. Sorry. You have to make do with what you’ve got. Besides, accounting would get all confused and would make you fill out a transfer protocol and that might screw up the month’s numbers and…this is your job. To manage. Can you manage? Good. OK, I got some calls to make. (Picking up the phone) Let me know how it goes.

(Linda, deflated, drags her feet back to her office where Tommy is slurping his coffee loudly and reading The Oatmeal webpage)

TOMMY: Lin, you got to read this. He is so funny! I bet you I could make a  web comic too…

LINDA: Yea, later. Right now I have to figure out how to vet Hristo’s test translation. I can’t pay anybody and I am pretty much out of favors with everybody we work with.

TOMMY: You got an editor already?

LINDA: Yea. I got an editor but she’s demanding almost all of the budget to edit.

TOMMY: Then have her take a look at the test.

LINDA: Yea, I thought of that, but she’s not back until Friday. That is when she is supposed to receive the translation so she can edit by Tuesday morning.

TOMMY: Then…hmmm…you could get Uncle Google to help.

LINDA: What does that even mean?

TOMMY: You just copy and paste Hristo’s text into Google Translate and see what it spits out.

LINDA: Use Google Translate to grade the guy’s text? You’re off your rocker. I can’t do that.

TOMMY: (Excited) Why not? It’s Google Translate. Not circa-2001 Babel Fish or whatever that used some old rules-based or dictionary dumping technology. The statistical model that Google uses actually looks at documents that have been translated by flesh-and-blood translators. Tons of UN documents were used to populate its corpuses. Corpori? Corpora? Corpora. And the algorithm is getting smarter all the time. That’s why it’s marginally better.

LINDA: I…don’t…even have the first clue as to what you just said to me.

TOMMY: Run it through Google and see what you get. Think about the big picture. You have an editor you trust, right? Hristo only translated 400-something words. He could easily “pass” (throws exaggerated air quotes) the test, and still, if the translation sucks, you have an editor to clean it up and you have an excuse that 400 words of 15,000 is only like 2% of the total number of words so his test could have been an anomaly. Relax. You’re covered. What are you doing for lunch? I’m starved.

LINDA: It’s only 10!

TOMMY: Mexican?

The sixth and final part coming October 19th, 2012.!! Go there now!


  1. Pingback: Quality Control, Part VI « roughly translated

  2. Pingback: Quality Control, Part IV | roughly translated

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