Sunday, February 28, 2010

Alastair Reyonlds - House of Suns

Alastair Reynolds, House of Suns, Gollancz, 2008.

Spoiler warning!

This is a far-future novel combining big themes and the personal story of the main characters. The background story, told at the start of each section of the book, tells of Abigail Gentian, who became one of the first people to establish a Line, by creating a thousand clones of herself, with her memories, whose purpose is to explore the universe over thousands of years, and regularly meet up and share memories. These "shatterlings" differ from Abigail to some extent, so half of them are male and half female, and their appearance varies. From the moment they start their separate voyages, they become different people, and the regular meetings help them pool their memories and experiences.

Two of these shatterlings, Campion and Purslane, fall in love, something frowned upon within the Gentian Line. They are late returning to the meeting place for the reunion, and discover that someone has attacked the meeting place, killing most of the Line. The story follows the few survivors as they try to work out what has happened and who among them is a traitor. The survival of the Line is at stake, and the tensions between the survivors complicate the investigation. They are joined by some visitors, and the Machine People among them play an important role in the mystery, which turns out to be far larger and more important than anyone could have imagined.

This is a complex, exciting and touching story, with sympathetic characters and a satisfying ending. It is well-written, carefully paced, and engaging. I would welcome further stories set in this universe, which seems to have great potential.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Jerusalem - Bridge of Strings

The hotel room where we stayed for the ITA Conference gave us a good view overlooking the Bridge of Strings. This bridge will serve the light railway (or tram) service, and as usual in Israel, its completion was delayed considerably.

Here are some photos of the bridge at different times of day, with different lighting conditions.

Jerusalem - Western Wall Tunnels

During the ITA Conference, we were taken on a guided tour of Jerusalem at night. The main focus of the trip was the Western Wall tunnels alongside the Western Wall, which was the supporting wall of Temple Mount. We learned that the current Jewish worship site, the most holy place in Judaism, is only a small part of the original wall, and the tunnels underneath the adjacent parts of the Old City follow the wall further.

It is worth taking this tour with a knowledgeable tour guide who can explain the history of the site. At one point, there is a moving model showing the various stages of the Old City around the Temple Mount. This helps visitors see where they are walking, what it looked like at the time of construction, and what was built above the tunnels later.

The wall contains the largest building block in the world, weighing 570 tons. It is unclear how this stone was brought to the site.

The tour reached the place where construction of the Herodian walkway alongside the wall ceased, and the stones that were being quarried for use were still only partly separated from the bedrock. Further on there are rooms that were used as water reservoirs for many centuries.

After emerging from the tunnels, we walked around the Old City, getting a good view of the Western Wall itself, and of the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on top.

The tour continued with a walk through the Jewish Quarter, including the Cardo, a street from the Roman period that has been reconstructed, and is now lined with souvenir shops (which were, however, closed late at night...).

It was an interesting tour of a city I don't know very well. This was my first time in the tunnels, and I had never toured the Old City that late at night, when it was largely deserted. This was just a small taste of the history and archaeology to be sampled in Jerusalem.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

ITA 2010 Conference

The Israel Translators Association (ITA) held its annual 2010 Conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Jerusalem on Feb 8-10 2010.

This conference is one of the high points of my professional year. I have been participating in the ITA's conferences since they started, and this is the eighth time I have attended the event. It is an opportunity to learn something about the professional and business aspects of my occupation, to meet translators and to make connections.

The first day of the conference is always devoted to workshops. These are either aimed at beginners, or focus on specialist subjects, so I only attend when there is a topic of particular interest to me. This year I skipped the workshops and arrived at the hotel in the evening, in time for the cocktail party and gala dinner.

The keynote speaker after dinner was Oren Nahari, journalist and foreign news editor at Channel One News (Israel's public television station). He spoke about the decision making process in the media. Specifically, he noted that when there is a choice between what is important and what is interesting, the interesting is always given precedence. This seems applicable to many aspects of life. There are things we want and things we need, and we are often tempted to choose pleasure over necessity. Television news is supposed to tell people what they need to know, but instead it often has to tell them what they want to know. For example, celebrities get more attention than important but unglamorous news. Nahari mentioned that 83% of the Israeli public gets most of its information from television, but later contradicted this by noting the decline in viewing numbers and the rise of the use of online sources. I suppose it is not easy to get this sort of data, but either way this lecture seemed to support my decision not to have a television at all. I learn about the news from a combination of print newspapers, radio, web news sites and blogs, and I have no way of knowing whether the information I get is any more accurate than what is provided by television. At least it is less influenced by the power of pictures (or video).

Day Two opened with a plenary lecture on Humour and the Bible, by author Ephraim Sidon and illustrator Danny Kerman. As they noted, there is not much humour within the Bible, but biblical stories have been the basis for humour, both verbal and graphic, particularly in the last two centuries.

The first session started with Andrew Wilson, author of Translators on Translating: Inside the Invisible Art. The invisibility of the translator is sometimes considered essential - the translated work is supposed to read as if it had been written in the target language. The translator is also invisible in another way, by not being given credit for the work in the same way as the author. The final product is always someone else's. This seems to be an interesting book, and I may read and review it.

The next lecture was by Jeffrey Green, on the way literary translators need to read and understand texts in order to translate them in a literary form equivalent to the original work. This talk touched on the constant tension of form and content. A factual translation will focus mainly on conveying the content in the target language, but in literature the form, style, tone and register are equally important.

After lunch, Rachel Halevy, who edits translations into Hebrew, spoke about the role of the editor. It seems that in Israel, many editors think their duty is to lay down the law about which words and grammatical forms should and should not be used. Since Hebrew is a small language, such restrictions limit it even further. The long history of the language enables many alternate usages, and so the decisions editors make to permit particular forms and ban others are often completely arbitrary. She noted that Israeli authors use a range of language that editors of translations into Hebrew would probably find unacceptable. Instead, she suggests, the role of translation editors should be to catch "translationese" that the translator couldn't see, and to propose alternatives that sound better in terms of the musicality of the sentence or the register.

Then we heard the preliminary findings of some interesting research conducted by Prof. Rakefet Sela-Sheffey of Tel Aviv University, in collaboration with Dr. Miriam Shlesinger of Bar-Ilan University. The study investigated the professional self-image and status of translators and interpreters in Israel. On the one hand, translators possess great power as cultural mediators. On the other hand, the profession has a weak image, is unappreciated and low paying. Translators are considered invisible, they work behind the scenes, and their efforts are in the service of someone else's text. The self-image and social status of translators was assessed by studying published interviews with literary translators (the elite of the profession, at least in the public eye), and interviews were conducted with working translators of various sorts. The elite literary translators tend to view translation as an art, as a calling or a destiny rather than a profession. They consider it to depend on personal skills and qualities, and some even consider the issue of payment to be irrelevant. At the same time, the ITA is trying to professionalize translators by teaching them business skills. Translators have to decide where they stand on the spectrum between art and business.

In the afternoon session, I heard Perry Zamek speak about using e-mail and e-mail groups for professional communication. As a reasonably technologically skilled professional, I didn't learn much I didn't know, but this was a useful lecture for many of the audience members.

There followed a lecture by Uri Bruck on translating websites. This was an important and familiar topic, as I am often asked to translate websites. The first problem is in providing a quotation and schedule for the translation, particularly when the customer says: "Look at the website and tell me how much it will cost and how long it will take". It is difficult or impossible to count the words on a website, especially a complex one with many links. Uri recommended ideally getting access to the website's content management system, or failing that, receiving the text for translation in a Word document or html. It is also important to proof-read the translation once the website is live.

That evening we had a tour of Jerusalem, about which I will write later.

The second day opened with a plenary lecture by Jost Zetzsche on the importance of using technology in translating. He argued that translators have been missing out by resisting new technologies instead of embracing them, with the result that software has been adapted to the needs of companies rather than translators. Personally, I am still skeptical about the need for translation memory tools for the sort of work I do, but my attitude may change eventually.

The morning session started with Don Jacobson speaking about translating for the construction business. It is always interesting to hear about other fields of specialization. Don translates for international construction projects where English is the common second language shared by people from many countries and backgrounds. There is a wide variety of documentation types, and many sub-fields, each with its own technology. Many of the documents are written by engineers who may be experts, but are not usually good at communicating. In this field, he also stressed, it is important to have professional liability insurance, and to explain to the customer that the translation must be checked carefully.

Next, Rina Ne'eman, owner of a prominent translation company in New Jersey, gave a lecture on freelance translators and how they can become more business-like. She gave many useful tips on how to be a successful entrepreneur, both in terms of practical behaviour and in terms of attitudes and presentation. While I agree with almost everything in principle, the way it was presented was as a sort of ideal of the sort of freelance translator a language service provider would like to work with. This person, it appears, must adopt a work-first attitude. While it is true that people who don't check their e-mail frequently may miss opportunities, the idea of being available for work all the time seems a bit excessive to me. I believe even the most dedicated professional is entitled to take time off and switch off mobile phones. Most translators work for several customers (direct customers or translation agencies), and sometimes have to refuse work from one customer due to prior work commitments for others. In the same way, I think even professionals can afford to refuse (or miss out on) work when they need to spend time with family, friends or themselves. Our work should be one part of our lives, one part of our identities, and it is important to find the right balance between wanting to gain a good reputation and satisfy the needs of our customers, and other aspects of life.

The session continued with former ITA Chair Micaela Ziv presenting the ITA's new Recognition program. This will be the first step towards ITA Certification. The recognition will be granted to ITA members who meet the criteria regarding training and work experience. I intend to gain this recognition, and will write about this in greater detail when relevant. Micaela also described the ITA's mentoring program, which helps new translators gain experience and confidence with help from experienced professionals.

Fabienne Bergman then spoke about her experience of collaborative translating. She helped translate a book from Czech to French, without knowing Czech. Her contribution was related to understanding the content and adapting the language to the appropriate style and register.

This conference was worthwhile as usual. I enjoyed the lectures, meeting translators I knew and also new people, the hotel and the guided tour. I look forward to next year's conference.

Friday, February 5, 2010

International Networking Week 2010 event in Akko

International Networking Week event in Akko, February 4, 2010.

This event was organized by BNI Israel and MATI Western Galilee Business Development Center, and held at the Palm Beach Hotel in Akko (Acre).

This is the fourth time I have attended events for International Networking week. Here in Israel, they seem to alternate between having large events for the whole country (like last year's conference) and having smaller, local events. This was one of the smaller events, with another, probably larger, event taking place two days earlier in Binyamina. This year's slogan was "Together we will do more", which in Hebrew has a secondary, implied meaning of "we will make more money"...

There were about 60 participants, mainly BNI members from chapters in the north of Israel, some from chapters farther afield, and a few non-members.

The first hour was devoted to open networking, and there were a few stalls where products and services were exhibited.

The event's presenter was Dr. Itai Plaut, BNI Regional Director for the North (and a former member of my own Haifa chapter). He introduced the speakers, and also gave some networking tips. The first speaker, Sam Schwartz (pictured in the photo above), co-National Director of BNI Israel, spoke about using networking to gain customers in a competitive market. Sam is an excellent speaker, and his enthusiasm has inspired many new members.

There followed two presentations on professional issues. First, Aviram Petel spoke about business development and financing, focusing on the financial sources for the various expenses of a new business. Then Doron Benita discussed the past, present and future of the Internet, focusing on strategies for online networking and marketing. Interestingly, while most of the people in the room said they used Facebook, very few used LinkedIn, and only two people used Twitter. This may be due to Facebook's Hebrew interface, which makes it easier for Israelis than English-only services.

After a break for refreshments and further networking, we had structured networking sessions at the tables. Since most participants were experienced BNI members, this was a familiar activity, and some people already knew a few people at their tables.

I enjoyed the event. I met some new people and introduced people to each other, perhaps leading to collaborations. I received a referral from one person at my table. It is always good to meet members of other chapters I know. However, it was a pity there were so few participants, as the larger events have a more energetic atmosphere. I would also have preferred to see more non-BNI participants. I hope next year BNI Israel organizes a large national event for International Networking Week, as these seem to be more worthwhile.