Long Weekends and Artificial Intelligence


An old insult goes like this: Why aren’t tech support personnel allowed long weekends? It takes too long to retrain them.

Sometimes it feels as if that insult is accurate when applied to the care and feeding of computer systems. The Fourth of July weekend and last weekend are prime examples here. I came back to work on July 5 after a 4-day hiatus and discovered that the newly installed router wasn’t accessible from the internet (if that were the goal, we could simply have disconnected the old one), the primary printer displayed a bright red error LED and wouldn’t print, the phones had a dial tone but wouldn’t make or accept calls, and the backups failed for the first time in several years.

Not being a fast learner, I took another 4-day weekend two weeks later. This time, I returned to find an email from our ISP stating that our configuration was wrong and was a security risk. The primary printer now works but prints our logo in green in the middle of the page. (It’s a monochromatic printer! How did it manage to upgrade itself?)  The phones would initiate and receive calls normally, except that every 20 to 30 minutes, they would all lose connection and have to be rebooted. Not to mention that the hot spots we use for access decided they were no longer connected to any account and refused to work.

These kinds of problems seem to be restricted to vacations and long weekends. If I’m in the office Friday and Monday, the system runs beautifully. There has to be a sensor somewhere, possibly a webcam or pressure sensor in my chair, that detects my absence and instructs the system to creatively fail. Maybe it’s a read receipt on the system logs or software to detect my login. In any case, it’s definitely linked to my absence; it doesn’t otherwise matter who is on site, who is logged on, or who is available.

If anybody has a solution that will confuse the computers into believing that they’re being watched, please send it to me! If 4 consecutive days with no contact causes all of these issues, what would a 2-week vacation create? An electronic strike? A group of PCs and network nodes marching on the CEO’s office? A takeover of the grid for the entire city? Who knows?


Don’t anthropomorphize computers—they hate it!  —Anonymous

Bob May, Guest Blogger

CTO, Tembua: The Precision Language Solution


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The Language(s) of Growth

Turks and Caicos Islands, Ethiopia, Palau, Monaco, Papua New Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Uzbekistan, and Nauru: what do these eight countries have in common? (Map from WorldAtlas)


They hold the top slots in the World Factbook’s Real GDP Growth Rate index, based upon 2015 estimates (except for Turks and Caicos, which is based upon 2007 estimates). Notice that China, India, the United States, Canada, Germany, and Russia are not in this list?

Another common feature among these economies is that most of them, although growing well, are not large. None is larger than $200 billion, and three are less than $1 billion. Nauru’s economy is $158 million, primarily based upon phosphates; Uzbekistan’s is $188 billion, (cotton); Cote d’Ivoire’s is $78 billion (cocoa, coffee, palm oil); Palau’s is $272 million (tourism); Turks and Caicos’ is $672 million (tourism, banking); Papua New Guinea’s is $20.5 billion (minerals); Ethiopia’s is $162 billion (coffee, gold, many others); and Monaco’s is $6.8 billion (tourism, especially gambling, and banking). For comparison, the U.S. ($17.9 trillion) economy is a relative giant.

Bhutan, Rwanda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Djibouti are also listed among the 25 fastest-growing economies, as is China. The U.S. ties for 124th with Hong Kong and El Salvador, among others. Canada, Germany, Russia, and Brazil don’t crack the top 150.

These countries also have diverse primary languages. Turks and Caicos Islands speaks English; Ethiopia speaks Oromo, Amharic, and several others; Palau speaks Palauan; Monaco speaks French; Papua New Guinea speaks Tok Pisin plus English and an estimated 836 indigenous languages; Cote D’Ivoire speaks French and about 60 others; Uzbekistan speaks Uzbek, Russian, and Tajik; and Nauru speaks Nauruan.

Although these countries aren’t among the ones we hear and think about most frequently, It would be a mistake to ignore their economies and their languages. Certainly, English is the major trade language nd French and Russian are also widely used for business, but if we only pay attention to those languages, we miss opportunities to deal with ever-growing groups of people with diverse (and also ever-growing) needs. We would be well advised to take former German chancellor Willy Brandt’s advice: “If I am selling to you, I speak your language. If I am buying, dann müssen Sie Deutsch sprechen.” 

As language professionals, we need to be aware of the full range of languages and dialects. At Tembua, we are always ready—and excited—to accept new linguistic challenges.

Bob May, Guest Blogger

CTO, Tembua: The Precision Language Solution



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Moore’s Law, Computers, and the Language Industry


“I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.”
– Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943

The currently accepted version of Moore’s Law states that the number of transistors per square inch on an integrated circuit doubles every 18 months. Because this happens, computing power also doubles every 18 months, and that is why we are now able to own a smartphone or watch with more capability than almost any mainframe of 40 years ago.



The first smartphone, Simon, went on sale August 16, 1994, at the bargain price of $1100—$900 with a BellSouth contract. It had a touchscreen and 10 apps (called features) and weighed less than a pound!

As technology has evolved, so has its pricing. Does anybody remember the first flat-screen monitors? I remember walking into Best Buy and seeing the future, which was 17 inches measured diagonally and cost well over $1000. You can still buy a refurbished 17″ for $29.60. A new 24″ can be had for under $120.

Software and networking are similarly affected by Moore’s Law. A 10 megabyte download used to take most of a day. Now, for typical internet connections, download time is measured in seconds. Personal computers used to bog down if three applications were open at the same time; now we often have three dozen, all more resource-intensive. My first company’s mainframe had 32 kilobytes of RAM and 1.2 million instructions per second. My current work PC has 16 gigabytes (half a million times the size) and a 4-core 2.8 gigabyte CPU (more than 9,000 times the cycles) of that mainframe, which serviced an entire company.

What does this have to do with the language industry?

In the 1950s, machine translation (MT) developers claimed: “In five years, we’ll have done it!” Unfortunately, the bar for “it” kept moving. However, today’s language industry is finally approaching that goal—and the primary reason is based upon the increased computing power predicted by Moore’s Law.

Twenty years ago, it took a supercomputer or, at least, a very powerful mainframe to generate a reasonably useful MT engine, and it probably took a full day’s run. Today, thanks to improved programming, clever and complex algorithms, and faster hardware, we can generate the same engine on a capable PC in a few hours. Twenty years ago, it was ridiculous to imagine video conferencing. Ten years ago, it required expensive special equipment installed at each site. Today, we can do not only video conferencing but three-way video interpreting on our laptops, phones, and tablets.

What’s next? Virtual reality to transfer and translate one environment to another in real time? Implanted chips that will furnish content in any language desired? Already there are heads-up displays so that we can see the original text as well as the translation or interpretation? It’s all possible, due to the effects of Moore’s Law.

Bob May, Guest Blogger, CTO, Tembua:the Precision Language Solution


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Does Europe have a Fourth of July?


I guess it depends on the meaning of the question. Certainly July 4th shows up on European calendars, but it doesn’t involve cookouts, fireworks, picnics, parades, Sousa marches, boating, swimming, or any of the other activities that we associate with our holiday. They don’t celebrate anything on the day that we Americans celebrate the signing of our Declaration of Independence in 1776.

But although our most patriotic holiday stands alone on its calendar day, it is far from unique. France has Bastille Day, aka La fête nationale or Le quatorze juillet (July 14th). England commemorates Guy Fawkes Night (or Day), aka Bonfire Night in remembrance of the November 5, 1605, plot to assassinate King James I by blowing up the House of Lords. Canada keeps Canada Day, formerly known as Dominion Day; Mexico remembers Cinco de Mayo, the anniversary of the victory of the Mexican army over the French at Puebla in 1862; Namibia observes Independence Day on March 21; and I could go on and on thanks to DuckDuckGo, Wikipedia, and the rest of the Internet.

What meaning can we glean from this? First, that basically all countries have a history of struggle and citizens who are proud of their heritage. Second, that humans need to celebrate, we need a common cause, we need a raison d’être (reason for being). Third, that we love a parade, fireworks, food, and music. Fourth, that everybody loves an additional day or two away from work. (My hat is off to those who can’t get the day off—first responders and our military in particular, but also many others.)

For many people, these holidays simply involve sleeping a little later and being at play rather than at work. However, for others, they can present a significant issue. At Tembua, the global nature of our industry means that we have to plan carefully. We have to make sure that if we contract with a translator from Nepal, the due date for the project doesn’t fall on one of their 35 holidays (but Saturdays are OK). Right now, we know that Canada (July 1) and the USA (July 4) are in half-speed mode until the middle of next week, and many of our linguists are on vacation, so we have to think ahead to meet our clients’ needs.

What’s the point of this post? Happy July 4th/Canada Day/Bastille Day or the equivalent to everybody, whenever and however they celebrate their national holidays. Enjoy!

Bob May, Guest Blogger, CTO

Tembua: The Precision Language Solution


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Measure it with a micrometer . . .

There’s an old saying that my dad used disparagingly when a piece of machinery broke due to poor workmanship: “Measure it with a micrometer, mark it with chalk, cut it with an axe.”

Obviously, this referred to the creation of products, not services. But we can observe parallels in almost any service industry, including ours, language translation. Here’s how it might work.


Measure it with a micrometer: A top-notch team creates a highly technical English user manual for a new medical device. That document goes through multiple reviews to make it completely understandable for the target audience (the patients and/or doctors and nurses).


Mark it with chalk: Since that document is also intended to be distributed to Japanese speakers, the document owner sends it to the Tokyo distributor. Someone working in the office translates the text into Japanese, ignoring the format of the manual. Of course, this person has no software to aid in translation and no way to guarantee consistency throughout the manual, but at least this person knows the industry, if not the device.


Cut it with an axe: Luckily, the manager’s son has taken a Japanese class in high school and needs a summer job. What could be better than having him reformat that manual? There’s even a bonus—he can proofread the Japanese. Any word or phrase he doesn’t understand can be easily plugged into Google for a final translation. What could possibly go wrong?

A great deal of ingenuity, time, and effort has been invested into the product. The development and the original manual are the work of many professionals collaborating with the goal of a world-class result.  Instead of cheaping out on the final steps, we should “Measure it with a micrometer, mark it with a precision laser, and cut it with a micro-ceramic blade.”

Guest blogger Bob May, CTO



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Why do we stop for baby ducks?


A few years ago, I commuted regularly on one of our busiest freeways. One afternoon, I left a bit early and the traffic was moving at nearly the speed limit. Suddenly, approaching the intersection with another freeway, brake lights flashed and the entire 3-lane eastbound flow came to a screeching halt. Was the cause an accident, stall, emergency vehicle priority, lost load? No, the answer was the little clump of 6 that had been patiently waiting (I assume) in the concrete median for a slight break in traffic. The group consisted of a mother duck and 5 very small fuzzy brown ducklings, about the size of the ones pictured.

Traffic flow specialists, law enforcement personnel, and most others who work to expedite traffic tell us that we should NOT stop, swerve, or slow. Supposedly, squashing a duckling is minor compared with causing a potential accident and delaying hundreds of commuters by creating a jam. But have you ever seen traffic, even heavy rush-hour traffic, ignore the quackers and plow ahead? I haven’t in over 40 years of commuting. But that doesn’t answer the question; why do we stop?

Personally, I think the answer is that we see in the little guys hope and promise. They will have a tough enough road ahead. We want to be enablers and, in a small way, the single action of applying the brakes raises our self-esteem.

We’d love to hear about your wildlife experiences.

Guest blogger Bob May, CTO



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Tips and Tricks for Laying Out a Document to be Translated


You’ve created a beautiful layout. The colors draw attention to your brand. The text has been expertly crafted to grab the attention of the most casual reader. And now you want to send to this to Europe and Asia with the same effect.
You’ll need a professional translation team for each language and desktop publishing (DTP) people who are used to handling foreign fonts. You knew that already, didn’t you? But did you know that there are ways you can make the DTP work easier, faster and less expensive all around? Here are some tips and tricks.
1. Remember that some languages shrink when translated from English. Chinese is one example. Give the DTP staff permission to enlarge the graphics and adjust the layout so your final file doesn’t look like someone stuck a postage stamp’s worth of text in your layout.
2. Some languages expand when translated from English. French, Spanish and Portuguese will be 25-35% larger, depending on the topic. Hmong may be 50% larger. Navajo will double in size. Differences in grammar account for some of this. If an adjective follows the noun with a linking word, that adds text. Another reason for expansion is that some languages lack the vocabulary and the translation team may need to explain terms within the text.
What does this mean for DTP? White space is king. Allow enough space for expansion within the layout or be prepared to shrink the font, adjust the margins, or even add pages. That can get expensive if you’re printing. Plus it makes your layout look like it was not created for those target languages. The best layouts look as polished in the translations as they do in English.
3. Send the live graphics if at all possible. If the DTP team can’t get into the graphics, they can’t put in the translations.
4. Don’t put text within your locked graphics. Yes, the DTP staff can handle that, but the process becomes time-consuming and, therefore, more costly. Even MSWord documents benefit from this. Inserting text boxes to cover the English so the foreign text can be typed in is a very slow process.
5. Send the DTP file itself for translation. Sometimes you may not have it, but know that recreating a layout from a PDF will cost just like creation of the original layout place.
6. Ask your translation/DTP team if they have the software to interact directly with your DTP program. Tembua’s professional translation management software can handle most of the DTP programs on the market. There are exceptions so please ask.
7. Think about the illustrations. Blond blue-eyed children may work in your geographic area but those pictures certainly wouldn’t speak to people in Korea, for example.
8. Consider the font. Ask your DTP team if all the glyphs will display in your font in all the languages you order. If they don’t know, you need to ask someone else. It is possible for text to look just fine to the untrained eye but still be missing bits and pieces of a font.
9. One more point—if you have ordered a right-to-left language like Hebrew or Urdu, consider how much time it will take to flip the layout, particularly sections that extend across pages. Keep it simple if at all possible.
Tembua is here to help! Even if we never do business together, contact us with questions. We like to talk about what we do!
Patricia May

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What is Thingie in Your Language?


Over the weekend I stopped to pick up food for the holiday picnic. Standing in line with a bag and balancing several full soft drink cups I said to the server, “I need a thingie.” Without a moment’s hesitation he handed me a molded cardboard drink holder.
On my way to the car (without spilling anything) I thought about how I’d asked. I could have said, “Please, sir, can you provide me with something to corral these cups lest they tip over on my way home?” But he understood what I meant.
Obviously the context helped. I had the cups in my hands. What really made me smile was my use of thingie. I’ve heard that used to signify a small part that the speaker can’t properly identify; to point out a malfunctioning something; even to reference an unspecified tool (“I think I have a thingie in here to fix that.”)
Each of those speakers could certainly have put together a fluent sentence that exactly specified the reference. is, however, a fun, informal, shortcut.
I’m sure your native language has a word or phrase like this. Would you share it ?
Patricia May

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Holding the Candle–Insult or Excuse?


A retirement had forced my friend to replace a talented staffer with a new hire and she was not happy. She grumped about all the training that would be needed and finally said about the new hire, “She can’t hold a candle to him.” We talked a bit about how training is always necessary, how one can’t expect old heads on young shoulder and how perhaps the retired staff member could be convinced to spend a couple of weeks helping the new person get a leg up.
As we chatted, though, part of my brain was thinking about ‘hold a candle’. The expression definitely indicates an unfavorable comparison but I had never looked into its origins.
Researchers have found instances of similar phrases as far back as the mid 1600’s. Before electricity, a helper was required to held a candle for a skilled worker so that worker could clearly see the assigned task. The candle holder was definitely inferior to the worker and probably the lowest ranking person in the shop. Someone who couldn’t even be trusted to hold the candle was at the bottom of the heap and probably not hired. Thus, can’t hold a candle to him consigns the person being compared to a very low level indeed!
A similar expression is holding the candle, as in I wasn’t holding the candle. This comes from a French expression and means I wasn’t there, I wasn’t helping, I don’t know. For example: I wasn’t holding the candle when the budget decisions were made. I wasn’t holding the candle when the contract was signed.
I’m already thinking of uses: I wasn’t holding the candle when the stinky garbage was dumped into the recycling bin. I think I’ll be using this one a lot!
Is this a useful phrase? Let me know!
Patricia May

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But How Good Are You At Being A Shrimp?


Biomimicry studies how problems are solved in nature and tries to apply that to human issues.
I ran into the word while reading the President Daily Brief on Ozy.com. Scientists are studying the mantis shrimp in hopes of mimicking its shell and hyperspectral optics.
It’s a beautiful little creature, isn’t it? I saw a parallel in business—exotic business cards, over-the-top marketing videos, extravagant promises– and wanted to ask, “How good are you at just being a shrimp? How good are you at your business?”
I don’t know how one measures the quality of life for a shrimp but certainly survival, warmth, liquid intake, food must all rank highly. The beautiful coloring is an extra.
Most companies track not only their competitors but others making gains in tangential fields. I occasionally hear of a small company jumping off a cliff with marketing or following new technologies or the latest quality management scheme. Sometimes they survive. Sometimes they don’t.
Yes, innovation, adaptation and growth are a must for continued business success, but I think that a company needs to first clarify its mission and vision. It has to be the very best shrimp it can be. Mimicry can be a part of being a superlative shrimp as long as it fits the mission and vision.
Scientists hope things learned from the mantis shrimp can improve our lives. Their beautiful colored hard shell and super vision may indeed be part of how they survive.
With a firm foundation and an eye toward improvement, when your company is solid in its mission and vision, your innovations will be the ones copied.

How good a shrimp are you?

Patricia May

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