1.11.2023

Using Google Translate to report news

I was reading an article in the Miami Herald about an ancient wishing well in Germany. At the bottom of the article it said, "Google Translate was used to translate the news release from The Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection." I was surprised to see that because I hadn't seen such a description before. 

So I did a search and found another Miami Herald article about ruins in China, which states that "Google Translate and Baidu Translate were used to translate the news release." When I clicked on the journalist's name, it linked to The Kansas City Star and says that she works at McClatchy, which is a media company owned by a hedge fund. The ancient well story was there, but it was linked to The Star instead of the Miami Herald. From that bio page, I clicked on another story about an ancient pantry in Germany, and at the bottom it says, "Google Translate was used to translate the news release from the W├╝rzburg District Office."

I've used Google Translate in my free time to understand online content, but I've never used it for paid work. I don't know if this is an issue for journalism. For instance, did someone need to verify the translations? What if the translations are not accurate or don't want to be? Not only do online, AI, and machine translations need to be edited in the target language, but if they're being reported in a news outlet and by journalists, the information should be accurate. 

At least the stories link to the original press release, so if anyone wants to look at the source, they can. I think this can speed up the reporting and content-creation process, but it should be done responsibly. I think it's really cool that we have such technology to connect with information around the world. When I started translating several years ago, it was time-consuming and there weren't a lot of online resources, so I had to buy some pretty hefty dictionaries. 

12.11.2022

Once Upon a Christmas Carol - an Audible Original

I just finished listening to the Audible original Once Upon a Christmas Carol by Karen Schaler (who I did a three-hour livestream with ["with whom I did a three-hour livestream" for the grammarians out there]), which will eventually become a podcast (because it's taking a while to edit the audio of such a long interview). Karen's Audible original is honestly fantastic. 

My parents were from the generation that grew up with radio, and during the Golden Age of Radio, there were many dramatic shows that included skilled voice actors and sound effects (which were Foley since digital was decades away). And because my parents talked about retro radio, I often listened to old-time radio shows every week on Chicago radio stations (before the Internet existed). So it's interesting how radio/audio has come full circle. For years, radio had talk, music, and entertaining bits. Now that we have digital options, companies like Audible create dramas that sound way better than those mono AM shows of yore.

There are many reasons why I like Karen's Audible original: it's total escapism because it's a positive, uplifting story that takes us to a small quaint town in Washington state, which is miles away from where I live. The story is excellent: she is a master of story structure! I wish I could write like that, and I aspire to make my own storytelling structures as tight as hers! There is romance, mystery, hope, adventure, friendships, warmth, professional insight, psychology, and more. The voice actors are convincing and sound authentic, to the point that I want to meet those characters and go to those places in real life. I also like how it ties to the Los Angeles, big-time music business scene, which is escapist for me as well because it shows me a part of the entertainment biz that I don't know about, and that in itself is fascinating. And it also shows the positive and negative aspects of social media and PR, crisis communications, and journalism. It's both practical and magical, and even asks the big question: what would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

If you want to get into the Christmas spirit and escape the monotony and drudgery of regular life, definitely listen to this Audible original, and listen the whole way through because it will all make sense and will be tied in a nice Christmas bow.

11.21.2022

Thankful to be employed

I'm one of those lucky people who was over-employed during the pandemic. I was working at least five gigs at the same time, and one part-time job that was 100% in-person went from a couple of days a week to more, at times several days in a row, because they had to limit the workers in the company. I also had a part-time job that became at-home a year before the pandemic because there was a shift from a W-2 situation (where I had to work in-person in an office) to a 1099 situation (freelance). So between those two part-time jobs, I was working essentially full time. I also was teaching online and in-person, and I did freelance digital work for a couple of companies. So at times I was working up to 80 hours a week, and I never dipped below 40. I can't believe I was able to do all that and never got sick or missed a day of work, nor miss deadlines or anything. I even filled in for other people who were sick. Now that I work a mere 50 hours a week, I look back at that time and am amazed I handled it all without even feeling stressed. I guess I really liked working to the max and was running on adrenaline. 

Then last year, the almost impossible happened when I got a full-time job. I had been working at the same company part time for seven years, and sometimes filled in for someone who eventually left for another opportunity. After freelancing, working part-time jobs, and running my one-person business for several years, it was very weird to have to go into work every day at the same place. I thought the office politics and other drama would be a nightmare because I was tied to one place. But it's been wonderful. My coworkers and boss are fantastic, and I like the work. I've met new people and have had a great time. I feel a sense of satisfaction and peace and actually feel successful. I'm not financially successful, but I have zero issues, which is worth a lot. Everyone I have to directly interact with is responsive and responsible, and they're all really nice people. I have zero stress, no drama, nothing negative. I'm also totally in charge of my work flow; I don't have to work within someone else's framework, which is very satisfying. I didn't know that I'd totally enjoy being in control of my own work flow, but now that I've experienced it, I want to keep working in such a situation. It's very satisfying to decide how to do something, who to ask to do it, when to get it done, etc. I always get everything done early or on time, and because it's on me and I am able to accomplish it, it's even more rewarding. Also, my boss leaves me alone because he trusts me, and he also doesn't mind that I have a personality. I don't have to fake introversion to survive. And a nice bonus: I have a large office with a view. I often don't turn on the lights so that I can see the sun, and when it becomes dark, the city lights are my wallpaper. The whole situation is unbelievably great.

I've also been teaching, and because one school has consistently asked me to teach and the classes fill up pretty quickly, I can no longer teach at another school. I'm lucky that I was able to teach at both schools for a while. Now that I have a full-time job plus teach some classes, one school keeps asking me if I can teach a class over there; every semester they ask me, which means a lot because it's nice to be needed, but at this point I only have time for subbing. At the other school, I'm having a great time teaching because I really like the students, and my bosses there are supportive as well. So right now, I have the full-time job and the teaching, which still makes me over-employed but not at the level I was at earlier this year (the W-2-turned-1099 part-time job ended in the summer when my boss retired). And I don't work with any difficult people or jerks (and this is where I want to plug the excellent book The Asshole Survival Guide, which everyone should read).

I'm not talking about my work situation to be publicly fake. I'm seriously glad that I'm still employed because some people have lost their jobs or they've had a tough time during the pandemic. Because of all the negative news and the changing economy, I sometimes worry about what's going to happen. I hope I'll continue to work for the rest of my life because I have no plans on retiring; there's still a lot to do.

p.s. e-book version of my debut novel (I'm working on a second one) is still at Amazon, and the price for the print version has been reduced: buy at the Eckhartz Press site.

11.13.2022

No worries

A lot of people are now saying "no worries." It's a trendy phrase that I wasn't going to comment on until I heard someone use it in the wrong way. 

This is what happened: I made an appointment, which was cancelled a day before. I rescheduled the appointment and arrived a bit early. As I was waiting, the receptionist said that the person I was waiting for was going to be late, and asked if I could reschedule for three hours later. It wasn't the best situation, but I decided to go to the gym and get something to eat to make the delay worthwhile. I said okay, and the receptionist said "no worries." Let me break this down.

Receptionist: Sorry, she can't make it on time. Can you come back at 3:45?

Me: Okay. I'll see you later.

Receptionist: No worries.

Hmmm. Why would she say "no worries" if I'm the one who was inconvenienced? After all, this was the second cancellation from their end, so I should be saying "no worries." I didn't even say anything to prompt her to respond "no worries." I just said "okay."

But it didn't stop there. I was walking back to the place to go to my newly scheduled appointment, when my phone rang. It was half an hour before the appointment was supposed to start.

Receptionist: Sorry, she can't come in. Can you reschedule another day?

Me: What about tomorrow?

Receptionist: No, she's not available tomorrow either. She's not available until Wednesday.

Me: I work all day and night Wednesday, so I'm not free. 

Receptionist: What about next weekend?

Me: Okay.

Receptionist: No worries.

Again, nothing I said would prompt her to respond "no worries." There were now three cancellations. The last cancellation was right before the rescheduled appointment, and there was no reason for me to be in that neighborhood; I'd gone there just for the appointment. This would be a more appropriate use of the phrase:

Receptionist: Sorry about all of the inconvenience.

Me: No worries.

But there was no apology from the business for me to respond to their flakiness with "no worries," though I don't use that phrase anyway. I think the receptionist has heard "no worries" so often in our culture that she's made it part of her own speaking style, but it's really supposed to replace "no problem," which I still use. Maybe the newer trend is to just say "no worries" independent of a context because it's become cool or something. Btw--it's a phrase that came from Australia, at least according to Meghan Jones from Reader's Digest (I inherited a subscription from my mother-in-law and still subscribe).

Now that "no worries" has saturated the speaking culture, I'm wondering if there's room for a new trend, such as saying "de nada."

8.29.2022

I finally watched Red Oaks

Whenever I want to write about TV, I think about the disparaging comment I saw that someone made about this blog years ago, that they didn't see much language-oriented content. That's because I've had this blog for several years, and when I started it, I was editing and translating a few languages, so my work life was all about language, and I wanted to express my observations and love for it. But I was working at home alone so much, I started to have the TV on in the background, so I started to write about that and other things. Fast-forward several years, and we now have lots of streaming shows.

I've had access to, or have watched, various shows and pilots, and have even read scripts to see how the heck they write that way, because it's super-difficult. During the summer, I heard someone speak who was involved in Red Oaks, and people commented that the show was really good. So I immediately watched the pilot, and I was like, okay, what's this? It reminded me of a cheesy 80s movie. But then I realized that was the point. It wasn't mocking such movies nor was it satire, but it put us in that world and communicated a sincerity and warmth that wasn't portrayed in those movies. Then I watched all three seasons right away. What I consistently saw was that the writers/creators seemed to like people. I have no idea if they really do, but it felt that way because all the characters were grounded, even though some were silly or exaggerated. But there was a sincerity and warmth throughout the entire show that I really connected with, even though there were crude jokes and scenes a la obnoxious 80s movies. I'm not a fan of vulgar or explicit content, but I wasn't focusing on those aspects, just enjoyed the characters and stories that were in an era that I was familiar with.

I actually wrote a ton about this show in the original post, but decided not to go live with it because I realized that I'd written a thousand words just about the female characters (in a complimentary way). Now that I've set the post aside for a couple of weeks, I'm still thinking about the show, and I'm still thinking about the characters, even though since then I've watched other movies and shows, including I, Tonya and Pam & Tommy, because, while those biographical works have excellent acting and the non-Americans absolutely nailed the accents, Red Oaks is totally original and all the characters and storylines are great! 

First of all, Paul Reiser is an incredible actor who absolutely mastered his character. The writers even skillfully put his background and motivation for wealth into conversations he had about his family and his desire to be successful. I have met such people, and Reiser makes it all seem authentic. His portrayal of an ambitious man is so spot-on, I'm not surprised that he's been such a success in Hollywood.

And I love his wife. Because this show is mainly a comedy, she seems like a caricature of the stereotypical wealthy husband's wife who maintains her beauty and enjoys the fruits of her husband's labor. But what makes her so enjoyable to watch is that she is strong and she loves him and cares about their daughter in the best way she can. It's also revealed that she was with her husband from their early struggles to their comfortable present. He loves her and she loves him, and honestly, I like seeing such relationships on shows. The writers seemed to make a wise choice to counteract greed and conspicuous consumption with love that we can clearly see. She's also blunt in a humorous way. She seems obnoxious but as the series continues, we see how she's multifaceted and strong. I have also met people like her and don't aspire to befriend such people, but her character was fascinating and fun to watch.

Their daughter is a character who looks and acts like a combination of Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald, which was a clever decision because the show takes place in the mid-1980s, and they were definitely popular during those years. She is like women I've known, whose rich parents support her and who likes to live on the wild side, different than her privileged upbringing. When I saw her go through her experiences on the screen, I kept thinking that she's a version of the kind of woman I wrote about. Because I'd met people like her, I wanted to capture such a character in fiction, but some people who read my book didn't believe that someone like that could exist. But yes, there are wealthy young women who want to go off the track and party and date guys and live crazy lives because they've grown up with restrictions, and they can afford to take chances. Even though the character in Red Oaks is more subdued than mine, I was glad to see her included because her scenario wasn't far-fetched. 

About the pretty women: this was another area where it seemed to me like the writers juxtaposed what we see and what we experience via their actions. Of course, every Hollywood creation is going to have attractive people. What bothers me is when they're objectified, a topic that has been written about for eons. But basically, when I see beautiful women on the screen and there isn't much depth, or when the guys are given more gravitas and the beautiful women are mere eye candy, I tune out. There are various examples of shows and movies created around guy characters where their female love interests are: 1) dumb/ditzy; 2) would realistically be unattainable because they're way more beautiful than the men, and the men might show boorish qualities and the women inexplicably ignore such negative traits and brainlessly go out with them; 3) there doesn't seem to be a productive role for them other than they're hot and that's it. 

Kate Mulgrew infamously criticized the Star Trek: Voyager bosses for bringing Jeri Ryan to the show, and even though Seven of Nine was obviously very popular for how she looked, she was smart and had depth and an extreme seriousness that was humorous. Even though I saw through the show's creators' T-and-A tactics (which they also used in Enterprise, which I quickly bailed), I stayed with it because she's a good actor and her character was interesting.

And that's what the Red Oaks creators seemed to do; they included the beautiful people for typical Hollywood aesthetics but didn't seem to objectify them. The two beautiful women who worked at the country club were nice people and had feelings. They were people to me, not just some excuse to include perfect-looking people in a show to get ratings. The guys who were interested in them weren't the stereotypical pigs, but they still had obnoxious aspects, harkening back to those silly 80s teen movies. But again, the situation had depth and reminded us of what we'd been served before, but with a more earthy and heartfelt twist. I don't want to give away any details (because it seems like a lot of people haven't seen this show), but one of the seemingly loser guys who is interested in one of the perfect-looking women ends up being way more than we think he is.

What the pretty women decide throughout the series demonstrates that there is more to them than just a perfect body and pretty smile. The aerobics instructor is really sweet and positive, which is also consistent with some people I've met in the fitness world. And the lifeguard character is sincere about overcoming the struggles in her life, and we see that growth by the end of the series. I don't want to give away what happens, but it's great. Basically, we often see beautiful people get ahead in life even when they don't have skills or a pleasant personality, and they use their looks to gain access. We don't see that in this show. Yes, looking a certain way helps, but they work hard and have positive traits, which I don't always see in real life, especially in certain industries (and I could write a whole blog post just about that).

And since I'm into accents and this is, at the core, a language-related blog, I was very impressed with Craig Roberts' accent. His American accent is so good to the point that I had no idea that he came from Wales. Of course, he is a good actor and has a flatness about him that makes him a likable main character who is navigating the ridiculousness around him. One of my favorite quotes from the movie is when an older man at the club tells Roberts' character, "You know what we did back in my day to find ourselves? We killed Nazis." There are so many moments like that in the show, and combined with some performances of other talented actors, including Ennis Esmer, who aced his accent via his thoroughly entertaining character (he was the show-stealer), and the fantastic Richard Kind, who is totally believable as the father, it's a show that is rooted in authenticity rather than a clever concept or agenda.

8.08.2022

Adopted in the last century

Sometimes I meet people who've been adopted, or who have adopted kids, and I tell them that my dad was also adopted. Because he was born in the 1920s, adoption wasn't openly discussed, so he didn't know about his origins until later. I've been binge-watching Red Oaks (which I'll write about once I finish Season 3), and in some respects, it reminds me of some of my family's experiences. One time I told my dad that I wanted to get a bling ring, and he gave me one that looks like an ostentatious wedding band that a character wears in Red Oaks. The ring he gave me was made in the 1940s and wasn't meant to be a wedding band; it was a fancy men's ring, but and he didn't really like it. It looks sort of gaudy but it's fun, so I wear it. My dad wasn't tacky; he was highly educated, well-read, and dressed well, even when he was teaching in a public high school.


I was recently looking through my online files and found the eulogy that I wrote for his funeral. I'm posting it here because it expresses my gratitude for the people who helped him out, and to show how an adopted person from almost 100 years ago shared similar feelings to adopted people now.


Eulogy:
Recently I asked my dad when he was the happiest, and he said his childhood; he had a very good childhood, which was the beginning of his long, fulfilling life. What bothered him though, through his old age, was the fact that he had found out that he was adopted. He didn’t find out from his parents but from another kid, and from that point forward, while he continued to have a good life, he felt like the enjoyable world he thought he had was somehow artificial, not what he thought it really was. The family that his parents said he had--cousins, aunts, uncles (he was an only child)--were not *really* his family because they weren’t biologically linked to him. 


I kept telling him that he was very lucky to have been adopted by a supportive, stable, well-off family who gave him everything he wanted (except for a BB gun). It didn’t matter that they weren’t biologically connected to him; they *were* his family, the family that chose him and brought him into their lives. And he was taken care of in various ways; even during the Depression, when a lot of the country barely had anything to eat, he had his own bedroom in a nice neighborhood in Youngstown Ohio, played golf with his cousin, ate large meals with homemade desserts, rode his bicycle around the neighborhood...and after he moved to Canton he lived out the Depression and many of his adult years there in comfort. 


Fast forward to his old age, when I spent a lot of time with him due to his physical limitations and illness. It became clear to me, while he still spoke of what I call an existential perception of existence (as he described the fact that he was adopted, so he was essentially “alone” in the world), I noticed that there was a *larger* family that had adopted him. Of course, family members called him, visited him, took him out, and made sure he was okay. But the family extended from there; it was the family of society. 


Many people who had no familial ties were very good to him. Friends and neighbors took him out, offered to help him in any way needed, talked to him, and treated him with respect. And it even extended beyond that. Many people, including strangers, treated him well and encouraged him. On a number of occasions, people he did not know at all would walk up to him and help him get out of a chair or out of a car. A cashier at Jewel would hand him a tissue when his nose was runny. A waitress would give us free meals. A man who didn’t speak English would give him a thumbs up. A woman would step out of the way to make room for him and his walker, telling us that she understood since she, herself, helped elderly relatives. The incredible reaction of people around him helped him to not feel alone.


As he got older, he became a relaxed person who had a very good attitude and lived in the moment. He pretty much never worried. I think his positive attitude and pleasant demeanor opened up doors for him, and caused others to respond favorably. Thanks to all the people in his life (as is evidenced by all the people here), the excellent doctors, nurses, and non-medical staff at Evanston Hospital, Glenbrook Hospital, and the Kellogg Cancer Center, he was able to live--and die--in dignity. 


His life serves as a reminder that even the little things we do can have a huge impact on another human being. I feel that this is important to remember as we see increasing evil in the world, because the good we do can offset the bad. 

7.18.2022

Just because they got lucky doesn't mean you will too

I've been thinking about this for a long time. I think that when someone hits the jackpot in a difficult industry and gets lots of attention for their incredible success, other people think they can achieve the same thing. But it's way more difficult and impossible than the hype makes it seem.

For instance, there are successful authors who are interviewed on major national shows, get paid big bucks to speak at events, and who get their books optioned for movies. They are wealthy, successful, popular, and are never short of an interesting experience around the corner. They hang out with other successful, interesting people and they are fully participating in the culture to the level that they want. Other writers look at them and think that what the pros have achieved is attainable, so they hold on to that dream and plug away and talk about their own bright future, even though it's a total long shot. The same can be said about musical performers, influencers, national TV anchors, comedians, talk show hosts, artists, etc. People look at all those majorly successful people and think what they've achieved can be duplicated, but such success is very rare.

Back to the writing example: I recently met a couple of successful writers. One of them tried to get an agent and get published, but was having no luck. Then the cultural expectations and publishing business changed, so the door was open to them, and they got a good book deal, a loyal readership, marketing and publicity support from the publisher, and it seems like they can make a living from their writing. They were flown across the country and put up in a hotel (and maybe paid?) to speak to a group. 

Contrast this with what usually happens, which is when a writer has to pay their own way for any kind of trip, and they're lucky if they're asked to speak anywhere. They're also really lucky if they get an agent's attention, because people usually have to pay to speak with an agent at a conference. For every writer who gets a book deal and publicity support from a publisher, there are thousands who are hoping for that chance but will realistically never get it.

Another writer I met broke through in a different way. They got a certain kind of education, got short pieces published, made important connections, got a book deal and then a movie deal. They've been reviewed and interviewed in prestigious outlets and have representation. Whenever a writer gets exposure, I'm sure many aspiring writers think they, too, can take that path and get the same results. But it doesn't happen that way and seems to be random. 

Even writers who get published don't necessarily get the publicity support they need. They have to hit the pavement and do their own publicity, which ends up being a business in and of itself. So after they've spent a long time writing, they have to put forth extra energy to get attention and try to sell books, and they're very lucky if they manage to sell 1,000. People say that having to make back an advance is hard, but many writers don't even get an advance, so they're pretty much starting from scratch. Or they have to recoup the money they've spent on editors, etc. because they weren't successful or favored enough to have someone in the business provide the editing and other tools they need. Basically, when a writer has the backing of a publisher who is willing to pay them something up front, plus do their publicity, plus collaborate with them, that writer is really in a special group. But because such successful writers are interviewed and speak publicly about their journey, many people think it's possible to do the same, and there are companies making money off such dreams. 

And again, I can apply these concepts to other areas, especially creative pursuits. We see the successful people being celebrated, but it will rarely happen for other people. They can express encouraging words for all the hopefuls out there, but the positivity is just messaging; it rarely gets realized. But someone I was talking to had a good point: people have to be ready for opportunities, so it's important to develop talents and skills in case a door opens.