Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Some Light Shed on the “Failed to Leverage Segment” Error in Wordfast Pro

In September I posted a negative review of Wordfast Pro. One of my major complaints was the repeated recurrence of the following error message:

"Failed to leverage segment. The following error occurred: *.txt: Failed to leverage segment. Unknown Wordfast  escape."

The error was particularly frustrating because it occurred on segments that I knew contained an exact or at least a similar match inside my translation memory (TM). In other words, the main reason you use TM technology was being negated.

It turns out that, in my case, the problem’s cause was completely unexpected and, for me at least, difficult to explain. My memories contained thousands and thousands of corrupted lines that were interfering with the adequate functioning of the program. After opening the TM in a word processor, a typical translation unit (TU) turned out to look like this:

20040529=191302      MIGUEL LLORENS  1          ES-EM            "A comienzos de los 90 y hasta el 95 los milicianos protegían el barrio, y ya después robaban y mataban.    EN-US "In the early nineties, up to 1995, the militias protected the neighborhood, and later on they began killing and stealing."   \sectd\linex0\endnhere\sectlinegrid360\sectdefaultcl\sftnbj ; o llamando al (440) 449-9669.  Sherman          - P.V.P:          - P.V.P:

20061127=201125      Miguel Llorens           3          ES-EM            "Es probable que las personas no recuerden exactamente qué hizo o qué dijo usted, pero siempre recordarán cómo los hizo sentir".    &'96; Fuente desconocida  EN-US "People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel."    &'96; Source Unknown        \sectd\marglsxn900\margrsxn920\sbknone\linex0\sectdefaultcl\sftnbj ; &t=};usando su SSN o hablando directamente con un operador    ******           Source - P.V.P:
The highlights in yellow are simply gobbledygook pulled from other TUs and metatags. I suspect it was generated during TM conversions from Trados to Wordfast or vice versa. I have heard comments that the .tmx standard, which theoretically should make memories easy to transport from one program to another, is still more of an aspiration than a reality. Perhaps this is a symptom of that.

In any case, the problem is relatively easy to fix. Simply open the TM file with Word. Select the gibberish in one of the units, and copy and paste it into Replace. You have to include the tabs and any random formatting garbage in order to make the cleansing complete. Leave the “Replace with” window blank and run the function. This will wipe the gibberish from your memory.

In my case, with my mother-of-all-translation-memories, each replacement wiped tens of thousands of instances of the corrupt lines from the memory. However, in my case, there were many different types of corrupt lines. So I had to scan the file manually and spot the bad lines. The cleanup took several hours from my life which I’ll never get back, but the program works about 80% better now.

In general, I still have some quibbles about the program's speed and the frequency with which Wordfast freezes up. But at least it is not the horror show reviewed several months ago. While I still wouldn’t recommend it, I am now looking forward to future updates to see whether it matches its previous degree of usability.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Lionbridge Situation: A Moderate Proposal for Constructive Action

It's been seven hours and 20 days since Lionbridge VP Didier Hélin took the translation world by storm with his love letter to the profession. The response has been overwhelming.

The question is: What can be done about it constructively, aside from complaining? It is a testimony to how courteous and professional the worldwide translation community is that the comments to my blogposts are often more moderate than the posts themselves (believe me, I take on board all the suggestions... even the one from a very irate Polish gentleman who helpfully suggested I "get a job").

Aside from my lame suggestion to take a week to think about it, several commentators to the blog contributed more intelligent and thoughtful proposals for constructive measures translators can take as a community. The most detailed came from someone called "Rory C," who I'm guessing 1) is not Lionbridge CEO Rory Cowan and 2) is very knowledgeable about the industry. He basically called on people concerned about the situation to write to the company's major shareholders and the equity analysts who cover the company, listed on the company's Yahoo! Finance profile. Well, I would like to second the motion.

I hear some of you asking: Why would this change anything? First of all, Lionbridge is a publicly traded company. The wealth of information on the Yahoo! profile must be disclosed legally. Secondly, since the company's value is a matter of public knowledge as its share price goes up and down daily on the stock exchange, it must make an effort to cultivate a positive image. The generalized perception of Lionbridge as a sweatshop could depress its value and lead management to at least consider some of its more salacious corporate practices. It is even possible that some investors are not aware of the company's low reputation among its supply of vendors and freelancers.

What I propose. My view is that freelance translators (regardless of whether they work for Lionbridge or not) can exert pressure on the company to renounce some of its worst policies by communicating to so-called stakeholders (fellow translators, shareholders and analysts) the message that the company runs the risk of doing irreparable harm to its public reputation. The concrete actions I recommend:

Do not work for the company unless you absolutely have to (obvious for some, difficult for others now dependent on the company for regular income). 

Communicate to colleagues (whether publicly, through blogs and forums, or privately) your opinion that Lionbridge is a low-wage, low-quality provider and that collaborating with or working for a company that is viewed negatively carries a stigma (yes, "Alan Walsh," a stigma).

"Lionbridge is whaaaat? That's enough to make a saint curse!"
Write six letters to the addresses of analysts and investors listed below to communicate your opinion as an individual that Lionbridge is generally viewed as an irresponsible corporate citizen that is increasingly seeking to squeeze lower and lower wages from its vendors both directly (through unilateral demands for discounts) and indirectly (by demanding that its providers use its subscription-based online GeoWorkz Translation Space and setting up a job distribution platform in which translators pay additional fees for getting preferential treatment in the assignment of projects). Also, convince friends and collagues to write to these analysts and shareholders.

Add your opinion that while a company must always seek the best deal it can for the services it purchases, Lionbridge has taken the effort to an extreme that creates: 1) a continuous revolving door as translators become disillusioned with the company and leave it as a client of last resort, forcing the company to engage in a constant drive to find new translators who tend to be less qualified and experienced; 2) the need to compromise quality, which will eventually depress the company's performance; and 3) a generalized perception of Lionbridge as a third or fourth class corporate citizen.

The concrete objectives would be to:
1.- Convince Lionbridge to provide any freelancer that works for it a free subscription of at least 80,000 words per month to GeoWorkz Translation Workspace. (Incidentally, this actually makes sense, if not from the viewpoint of basic human decency, from a purely commercial standpoint. If Lionbridge wants to increase the market share of its tool, what better way than to have thousands of its freelance providers become evangelists for the avowed wonders of its SaaS?)

2.- Convince Lionbridge to roll back its Job Posting Pilot Program, which requires freelancers to pay a subscription for viewing and applying for any jobs.

3.- Convince Lionbridge to suspend its policy of exacting a fee equivalent to two month's subscription from users wishing to cancel their subscription to GeoWorkz Translation Workspace.

4.- Convince Lionbridge to pledge a moratorium on further fee reductions until 2012.

5.- Revert to a net-30 day payment policy for individual freelancers.

6.- Convince Lionbridge to conduct fee negotiations on an individual, case-by-case basis and to refrain from sending mass emails to its entire database.

7.- Convince Lionbridge to update its database of freelance providers.

8.- Convince Lionbridge to pledge to improve its relations with vendors in general and affirm a commitment to both quality and competitive pricing.

Three closing comments. Firstly, please take the trouble to print out your letters and send them instead of simply emailing. It simply carries greater credibility, in my view. The second parting note is that I will post a suggested form letter as soon as I have a chance and leave it here for readers to make suggestions. However, if you come up with one before me, feel free to send it and I will post it, if you so desire. Lastly, please don't send letters to just the first six addresses. Mix it up so everyone shares in the joy of getting to know Lionbridge!

Please send your letters to six recipients out of the following addresses:

Major shareholders:

Head of Investment Management
William Blair Funds
222 West Adams Street
12th Floor
Chicago, Illinois 60606

Head of Investment Management
Tocqueville Asset Management LP
40 W. 57th Street 19th floor
New York, NY 10019

Head of Investment Management
Rutabaga Capital Management LLC
64 Broad Street # 300
Boston, MA 02109-4351

Managing Partner
Glenhill Capital Management LLC
156 West 56th Street
17th Floor
New York, NY 10019
United States

Head of Investment Management
Wells Capital Management
525 Market Street, 10th Floor
San Francisco, California 94105

Head of Investment Management
Marshall Funds Inc
111 East Kilbourn Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Head of Investment Management
Franklin Resources
P.O. Box 997152
Sacramento, CA 95899-7152

Head of Investment Management
BlackRock Institutional Trust Company, N.A.
400 Howard Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
United States

Head of Investment Management
Vanguard Funds
P.O. Box 1110
Valley Forge, PA 19482-1110

Head of Investment Management
Dimensional Fund Advisors
Palisades West
6300 Bee Cave Road, Building One
Austin, TX 78746

Head of Investment Management
Consulting Group Capital Markets Funds
222 Delaware Avenue,7 Th Floor
Wilmington, DE 19801

Head of Investment Management
Goldman Sachs Structured Small Cap Equity Fund
Goldman Sachs Asset Management, L.P.
200 West Street
37th Floor
New York, NY 10282

Head of Investment Management
Fidelity Investments
P.O. Box 770001
Cincinnati, OH 45277-0003


Kevin Liu
Senior Analyst
B. Riley & Co.
11100 Santa Monica Blvd., Suite 800
Los Angeles, CA 90025

Richard Davis
Managing Director, Research Department
Research Department
99 High Street, Suite 1200
Boston, MA
USA 02110

Joe Vafi
Managing Director, Equity Research
Jefferies & Company, Inc.
One Montgomery Street, 24th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

Vincent A. Colicchio, CFA
Senior Research Analyst
Noble Financial Group
6501 Congress Avenue, Boca Raton, FL  3348

Richard K. Baldry, CFA
Senior Research Analyst
75 Arlington Street
Suite 500
Boston, MA 02116

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Note on the Weekend Blackout and Blog Move

An apology to everyone who clicked on the links to the former address of this blog and got an error page. The problem is that last weekend (spoiler alert: completely unnecessary plug) I published the newest incarnation of my homepage. This involved redirecting the DNS address to the servers of the company that provides the service of (partially) hosting the site. This had the unfortunate consequence of crippling the WordPress site. I was dimly aware that this might happen, but I simply disregarded the little voice in my head that always tends to be right. Therefore, you have only my own incompetence to blame for the mess. Believe me, I am a reluctant techie and a times not a very good one.

Despite some teething pain, I was growing quite fond of the old WordPress incarnation, but now it is gone, gone, gone. The new homepage provider allows me to create another WordPress blog which is also redirected, but unfortunately it doesn't provide the same "theme" I was using before. This obliges me to pick a new theme and start tinkering with it, which will require a lot of time and patience that, for the moment, I simply lack. So for the moment, I have simply posted the Didier Hélin posts that have generated so much interest, sans comments.

Several readers asked about the comments. I know, I know. That was an integral part of the Didier Hélin posts. Fear not. Everything was backed up. The problem is that everything is in MySQL format and not easily transportable either to Blogger, which requires .xml, or to WordPress, which inexplicably requires something called .wxr. I successfully created an .xml from the .sql, but Blogger's import app simply laughed in my face. Therefore, I have to find some time and figure this mess out. In the meantime, if someone knows how to solve this difficulty, get in touch with me.

In any case, once again: a thousand apologies. And thank you for the interest and forbearance.

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Empire Writes Back: A Response to Lionbridge’s “Alan Walsh”

Today, my blog received a comment to the post in which I replied to Didier Hélin’s ukase to freelance translators about reducing their rates. It is written by someone who claims to be called “Alan Walsh.” He submitted a reasoned rebuttal of the shellacking Lionbridge has received over the blogosphere during the past week. Crucially, it is the only full-throated defense of Lionbridge, which has been universally decried as a subpar corporate citizen. I released “Alan Walsh’s” contribution immediately in the spirit of fairness, even though the email is clearly a fake address created for the sole purpose of enlightening me ( (Although it could be a real name; perhaps “rk45214″ is how they spell “Walsh” in ye olde country, which is presumably Mars.) However, when I looked up the sender’s IP address out of curiosity: Lo and behold! I copy the results for your viewing pleasure:
(Look it up yourselves if you so desire: or at
IP Address Location
IP Address
City Framingham
State or Region Massachusetts
Country United States
ISP Lionbridge Technologies.
Really, Lionbridge? Are you seriously that stupid? Lionbridge Technologies didn’t even take the trouble to disguise its IP address. (Dude, are you aware that the Whole Foods guy lost his job because of shenanigans like this and that it prompted an SEC investigation?)
I now proceed to copy the entire message:
I thought that the initial post was entertaining, but I don’t understand the need to stigmatize a translation company that keeps several thousand translators busy full time. Although the tone of the request could have been improved, there is nothing wrong with asking providers to make an effort during difficult times:
=> the announcement preceded the company’s Q3 results, which were quite poor. Why refer to the Q2 results, irrelevant at this time?
=> although the company receives revenue in USD and EUR, it outsources mostly in EUR, so the weakening dollar will have a huge impact on its bottom line during Q4
=> large software companies are asking for 10% discounts to all its providers. There is nothing wrong with asking translators that receive work on a regular basis if not full time to temporarily make an effort (this is only a 2 month initiative!). Companies across many other industries are doing the same thing. Lionbridge invests huge amounts to secure business that keeps thousands of translators working.

Granted, the tone of the email could have been improved, but translators can simply choose not to accept the discount…
(Signed: Alan Walsh)
And herewith my reply:
Dear faceless corporate stooge:
May I call you “Alan Walsh”? I’m on a first-name-last-name basis with your colleague Didier Hélin and I think that is how you address each other over at Lionbridge. First of all, thank you for reading my doofy little blog, “Alan Walsh.” I know that it has been very popular in your company, judging from the hundreds of hits from your servers worldwide and the depressing reports about what it is like to work for you.
Permit me also to commend you on your courage, “Alan Walsh.” Anonymity in a person who has nothing to lose by defending his own company certainly highlights the pride you take in working at Lionbridge.
To begin, you ask why there is “the need to stigmatize a translation company that keeps several thousand translators busy full time”?
The stigmatization is partly due to your style, the style in which you both manage your collaborators and the style in which you communicate with them. This style is indicative of a certain way of viewing the entire profession of translation and the industry at large. The communications from your company, of which your anonymous literary exertions are just another shining example, are all of a piece, “Alan Walsh.” They are both impersonal and gauche (you have conceded that somewhat grudgingly). Taken to an extreme, they evince an almost Keystonian degree of incompetence for a company to which major corporations outsource their communications in other languages. When viewed with a more critical eye, however, a far more disturbing issue than simple imbecility rears its ugly head: dishonesty and cynicism.
Let me recap the salient facts of the Didier Hélin Sandwich. It is an astoundingly long series of dick moves which you have just compounded:
1.- A distressing message was sent from a dummy email entitled “IMPORTANT – DO NOT RESPOND.” (Dick move number One.)
2.- It was sent on a Friday afternoon in the Western hemisphere to ensure the longest amount of lag time between its sending and Monday morning, when your Asian collaborators would wake up to find that they had been slimed. (Dick move number Two.)
3.- It was sent during the ATA conference, when a lot of spokespeople would be distracted. (Dick move number Three.)
4.- It clumsily adduced two or three random economic data points that Didier Hélin or his assistant lazily fished out of The Economist to justify a completely arbitrary redefinition of the terms of the labor relationship between you and your contributors. The entire message denotes sloppiness (borne of, again, contempt) in a message that probably made a lot of people feel really bad. (Dick move number Four.)
5.-. A demand of a discount was phrased as a fait accompli. So, yes, it was an offer, as you claim, “Alan Walsh.” An offer like Michael Corleone used to make right before you got the bullet in the eye during a Swedish massage. (Dick move number Five.)
6.- You sent that obscenity to everybody, “Alan Walsh.” Your entire database, which is a massive dark hole encompassing happy freelancers, zombies, mythical creatures, half-real half-imaginary “Alan Walshes” and unsympathetic former providers. You did not even invest the modicum of care necessary to limit the unpleasantness to only the poor souls who actually have to put [up] with you. Not only do you make your own people feel miserable, you were generous enough to share the misery with many other thousands of colleagues, thus instantly becoming the poster child for an industry-wide problem. (Dick move number Six.)
7.- You sent it in 2010. (Dick move number Seven.) While your senior management is spewing hot air about the Web 2.0 and collaboration infrastructure, you’re still handling your corporate communications with the ineffable tact of a nineteenth-century robber baron. You basically got up on a soapbox on Friday while the steelworkers were clocking out and shouted through an old timey blowhorn: “From now on we pay you 5% less! Suck it! See you all on Monday. That is all.” Except now a few dozen of the hapless victims in your database have blogs and several thousand have Facebook accounts. So, this is basically the brave new world of social networking telling you to suck it, “Alan Walsh.”
Now, to reply to your specific objections:
1.- You complain that “this is only a 2 month initiative!”. But the quotes from your CEO clearly state that this is only the beginning. Moreover, how can anyone trust you to make it only a temporary move? The Valentine from Didier Hélin certainly didn’t promise it was temporary. You have no credibility left, “Alan Walsh.”
2.- You allege “that translators can simply choose not to accept the discount.” Call me crazy, but the Didier Hélin candygram was less accommodating. Textually: “we require all our partners to provide a 5% discount on all Lionbridge projects.” To me, that doesn’t sound like an invitation to a square dance. Was Czechoslovakia free to refuse Hitler’s Sudetenland ultimatum? And yes, the freelancers can choose to not accept and cease working from Friday to Monday. But many will inevitably be too scared or at the very least unprepared to object. So it falls upon people who are not dependent upon Lionbridge for its tardy payments to express their feelings openly.
3.- You roll out the tired nostrum about the declining dollar: “Although the company receives revenue in USD and EUR, it outsources mostly in EUR, so the weakening dollar will have a huge impact on its bottom line during Q4.” Once and for all, I would like to ask a few questions: Haven’t you idiots heard of something called currency hedging, “Alan Walsh”? You’re basically saying, “we are completely and utterly unprepared for anything but a rising dollar.” Heard of a thing called strategic planning? OK, OK. You’re not the sharpest crayon in the box (believe me, we’ve established that beyond the shadow of a doubt), but, come on, why should the translators pay for your incompetence?
This leads me to another, nay, THE question: if the dollar rallies versus the euro next year when Greece or Ireland explode like H-Bombs, will you share the proceeds with the translators? “Uh, no way in hell! Papa needs his forex gains!” So, basically, your translators have to share the losses due to your mismanagement but not the windfall profits from random world events.
4.- Which brings me to your final whine: Large software companies are asking for 10% discounts to all its providers. That is the final and ultimate dishonesty. Number one, you are not a software company. You are a monstrously bloated translation agency with a sales department and a handful of software engineers. Rolling out a second-rate CAT tool from the cloud does not make you one. Just as a kid who puts firecrackers on a dog’s tail is not an engineer. I know you want to fool investors into believing that, but you’re not. And a translator is not a vendor. He or she is a freelance provider of services. What you really mean is that your gynormous clients are squeezing you to give them a discount. And you’ve already cut expenses down to the bone, so the only place to keep cutting is the massive expenditure on freelancers. The response from your freelancers should be: And how is that my problem, “Alan Walsh”? Has Didier Hélin taken any pay cuts since this economic thunderstorm began? For that matter, have you, “Alan Walsh”? Of course not.
Reports indicate that you have relentlessly driven down rates since the global meltdown began. The latest slap in the face is only one more chapter in this saga. There is no end in sight to the “new normal.” You think that this is a bottomless well. You want to keep pushing down on that baby. Well, if you’re surprised at the backlash, might I suggest that this is reality telling you that you can’t push down on that lever any further, “Alan Walsh”? That the pebble thrown in the well finally hit rock bottom? In other words, the dreaded time has come when you may actually have to employ people who are not computer literate. Or, alternatively, you may actually have to become more efficient. Or do crazy stuff like adopting better project management practices. Or stop going for the lowest bidder all the time. Or start nurturing your freelance staff and agency partners rather than viewing them as potential cash cows. You know, insane, wacko, out-of-the-box stuff like that.
Which finally brings me to you, “Alan Walsh,” or, to call you by your real name, Dick Move Number Eight. Your anonymous message, your fake email, your lame pseudonym, your brain-dead arguments. Leaving aside the dishonesty of a large corporation using free email accounts to leave positive feedback on itself, there is a more important issue at stake. The common denominator to Didier Hélin’s October surprise, your CEO’s disingenuous replies to analysts and your clumsy comment on my blog is the same: ice cold contempt. You have such a low opinion of other human beings that you didn’t even bother to, at the very least, send this asinine attempt at damage control from your home PC. Because you think someone else wouldn’t know enough to monitor the visitors to his own website. Because you think I don’t know that a “trademark protection” company has been downloading anything and everything from my website and blog. Or that your law firm is sniffing around. (And if you think I’m the least bit intimidated, dude, you are sooooo wrong.) The problem is you think you’re smarter than the rest of humanity. But, believe me, “Alan Walsh,” you’re patently not.
When you’re finally ready to act like a man and use your own name to defend your company, you will be completely welcome to post your ramblings free of censorship.
So, anyway, thank you for your comment. Feel free to drop by at any time (not that I can actually stop you). Wardrobe suggestion: Next time, come as Batgirl or Catwoman. Since you’re into disguises…

Yours truly,
Miguel Llorens

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

“It Rubs the Translation Workspace on its Skin…”

“…or else it gets the hose again.”

Ok, we knew that you had to forcibly subscribe to Geoworkz Translation Workspace to freelance for Lionbridge. It is pricey, it is slow, it is outrageous.

Now comes the news, gleaned from’s forums, that there is no free trial of the tool.

Ahhh, but the first 30 days only cost $0.01.

A single cent. The problem is that no reminder is sent that your one-cent joy ride is about to expire. A perfect example of behavioral economics in action. People are innately hard-wired to follow the default. Example: when you buy a product, the option to get an unnecessary add-on or accessory or useless service plan is activated by default. It has been proven that only a minority acts against the default, i.e., deactivate the unwanted option.

By not sending a notice that the subscription is about to transition to the full price, the company insures itself that some unwilling buyers will lose some of their hard-earned money.

OK, Lionbridge, I promise to suspend my snarky blog posts if you make at least one symbolic, empty gesture at minimally acceptable corporate citizenship or basic human decency.

With these subscription policies,you have already fallen beneath the standards of the porn and gambling industries.

Seriously, guys, what’s next? Clubbing baby seals?

Please stop. I beg you. Please, Lionbridge… You are officially the worst company in the world. You did it. Please stop trying so hard.

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

Lionbridge CEO Rory Cowan Explains Didiergate and the World of Freelancing to Analysts

…y hoy especialmente está llena la ruta.
(Fito Páez, “El chico de la tapa”)

One of the beauties of modern capitalism is the obligation of companies whose shares are publicly traded to engage in certain rituals of disclosure. One of these is the conference call by senior management to discuss quarterly results. By coincidence, it was Lionbridge’s turn this week to roll out its numbers.

Pity poor Lionbridge. It has had a tough week. It unveiled some pretty dismal numbers, and the market battered its shares. It was pretty grim, like a cage match between the Tasmanian Devil and Bambi. In an overall positive week in which markets were generally up, LIOX closed on Friday being worth 20% less than on Monday. Ouch.

In the face of this, a gaggle of irate blog posts by freelance translators was less than a footnote. Fleas can make you itchy, but they’re just a distraction. Nonetheless, “Didiergate” did make a brief appearance during the Q&A between management and analysts. The whole transcript is here (free, but you have to register).

I proceed to pick out a few highlights. An analyst made the following question to CEO Rory Cowan:
Kevin Liu – B. Riley & Company [Analyst]
Hi, good morning. First question here – your guidance for Q4 here is fairly consistent from a revenue standpoint as the prior quarter. But looking at kind of the impacts on margins, one you guys have accelerated restructuring, so would expect maybe some initial benefits there. But beyond that, Forex seems to be working against you at least for now on a sequential basis, and you guys have also sent out this memo requesting discounts from your translator base. I’m – so curious as to your confidence in extracting these discounts and what sort of net impact you expect on the margin line on a sequential basis?
I know, I know. You recognize the individual words, but they don’t mean anything when put together. Luckily, I speak some jargonese. The analyst is asking if the company thinks it can secure the 5% discount that set the blogosphere ablaze. Then he asks about the net impact on profit margins.
What follows is really remarkable:
Rory Cowan [Lionbridge CEO]
Right, I’ll handle some of this and then Don’s going to respond to it. First, I think two things – let’s take this in reverse order. We have gone out for a worldwide translator database and asked for discounts. And the reason for that is is [sic] we’re finding that – what’s happening it seems to be with workers in the Cloud right now is there’s quite a lot of fraud in a lot of these worked – these meeting places and job posting places where small businesses post projects and individual[s] respond to them, it seems if there is a not a lot of follow through on payment.
One of the things that we do is, of course, we’re a very high integrity and do pay people, first.
Did you see it? Blink and you miss it. The chief executive officer of Lionbridge is telling the analyst ever so indirectly that the 5% discount will be secured. Why, you ask? Well, Kevin, because there are a lot of sleazy job-posting sites for freelancers in the Cloud (apparently we’re in the Cloud) where scammers post project offers and never pay up.

OK, hold that thought for a second.

OK, now read on.

Then he goes on to say that we, Lionbridge, on the other hand, are a very high integrity company and “do pay people.”
Please take a second or two to let that sink in.

Done? Ok, let’s proceed.

He is saying that Lionbridge is a high integrity company, not because of its corporate responsibility, environmental awareness, unimpeachable ethics or opportunities for career development… No, no, no. None of that sissy crap.

He is claiming moral superiority because his company pays people for their work.
That is a pretty incredible statement. Somehow, I can’t imagine Steve Ballmer getting up and saying: “We here at Microsoft pride ourselves on being a high integrity company. And you know why…?” pausing as he chokes back a tear. “It’s because we pay our people, goddammit! (Not like those scumbags over at Apple.)”

I know what you’re thinking: “Big surprise! The guy who hired Didier Hélin is a buffoon of monumental proportions!”
But wait, there’s more:
Second, we’re finding the translators we’re [transcription error; should read: “are”] getting great productivity with our platform. And so, I think that we should be able to share some of that productivity – share the benefits of that productivity with them.
Oh, no, he didn’t! He played the technological productivity card (a justification which, by the by, was absent from Didier Hélin’s Halloween horror).

Reality check. Lionbridge is paying very low rates already. From that you have to subtract the translator’s subscription cost to use their Chitty Chitty Bang Bang translation tool. And on top of that they have to pay a fee to get to the front of the line in the company’s project distribution tool.
Now, thanks to increased productivity gained from using Translation Workspace, “we should be able to share some of that productivity… share the benefits of that productivity with them.”
Translation: “Those greedy, money-grubbing translators! Zipping around in their Ferraris while our share price circles the toilet bowl! Surely they can cut down on a couple of champagne bottles a month to share some of the benefits of our superior technology with us! I mean, for Chrissake, Didier Hélin might have to cancel his season tickets to the Red Sox!
But finally, he answers the question: will the translators bite? He goes on, tortuously:
So this is – I think – will we get 5% [from] everybody? That’s probably a little aggressive, but it’s certainly a nice place to start.
So there you have it, freelancers. Even Lord Vader thinks the Dark Side isn’t strong enough to get everybody to swallow Didier Hélin’s doodoo sandwich. “That’s probably a little aggressive.” (“But it’s certainly a nice place to start.” Meaning Didier Hélin can whip up another of his tasty concoctions at the drop of hat. And probably will, so get your knife and forks ready!)
However, there are still others that can embrace their destiny as minions of the Empire.
And we’re also finding that new translators are now coming to us, because they find that there are many more translators than they [transcription error: “there”] are companies with high integrity buying translation on the web.

Yes, the world is a big place. Basically, there are so many shady non-payers on the Internet and a freelancer’s chances of securing paid work are so slim that they will chew and chew that sucker and eventually gulp it down. Subliminally, what he is really saying is that if Luke and Han and Leia and the Wookie don’t buckle under, we can replace them with low-paid sand people faster than you can yell “green cards!” on the Mexican border.

It is significant that the head of a company that touts itself as a leader of the drive toward globalization via the Internet can paint such a depressing view of the “Cloud.” It is a gloomy and dangerous place filled with predators, fake companies, scammers, unpaid work, frustration and desperation. It’s basically a Charles Dickens novel with Wi-Fi hotspots. In contrast with the Land of Mordor, Lionbridge is the Shire, where hobbits frolic innocently. They frolic, that is, if they have a credit card and very, very low expectations.

The other image Cowan is conjuring of the Internet is that of an unregulated market with a limitless supply of qualified people. And to a room full of people who get regular salaries, the world of freelancing must sound scary. Cowan plays it to the hilt. Booooo! Recruiting for Lionbridge, he suggests, is similar to those street corners in the U.S. where illegal immigrants congregate for day labor. Mr. Cowan pulls up in his pick-up truck and yells: “I need two unemployed M.D.s with Mongolian and broadband access!” And he finds them on the cyber street corner. “Hop on board, fellas! Just one thing. We need to pay you 5% less than the last harvest. You know those new ladders we rented you are so good, we need to share some of the added benefit from all those extra apples you picked.”
There are six billion people in the world, after all. How hard can it be to find three or four thousand unemployed bilinguals with degrees, PCs, basic computer skills, a credit card, good grammar, writing skills, attention to detail, knowledge of electrical engineering, low self-esteem, an infinite capacity to absorb abuse, and a desperate need for the almighty (albeit shrinking) American dollar?

A Death Star “vendor manager” thinks like this: “Gosh, I have 322 professionals who fit that description in my database. No, wait, this woman is in here twice. OK, 321. Oh, this one’s dead. 320. And that one registered in 1999. He’s in prison now. 319. But he gets parole in January! He’ll need some quick cash. Let’s put him down as a maybe. And this girl just hates us. She’s the one who set up Hmm, better not call her. 318…”

Call me crazy, but Cowan’s vision is not the Internet I know. The world of translation may be globalized but it is actually quite tiny. I can’t count the number of times I ended up working on projects with people I know in person purely by coincidence. Six degrees of separation? Bah. Three is too much. Two and a half, tops.

Sure there are non-payers. But there are several reliable databases that tell you who is and who isn’t a reliable outsourcer. The one I use most frequently is’s Blue Board. And I used to subscribe to the Payment Practices List (, which is really useful, but I let my subscription lapse for lack of use. The thing is that fraud is so infrequent that I rarely need to check up on prospects. When an email comes out of the blue from someone who needs me ASAP for a presentation to be given in London, the telltale signs of fraud are so obvious that I do not even need to reply. Fraudsters are so lazy they even use the same names in the scam letters they send over and over again. I’ve been approached by scammers and fraudsters in person, on the street, more often than through the Internet.

The world is not only flat. It is also minute. The efficiencies from a global workforce immediately available through the Internet at a fraction of developed world wages are real. If you’re making tennis shoes.

Ok, that is one point I wanted to make: The Internet is not an absolutely opaque medium in which no one knows you’re a dog. So there.

And that leads us to the other major claim Cowan makes. “And we’re also finding that new translators are now coming to us.” Translation: If the current pool of translators balks at Didier Hélin’s culinary innovations, we can simply fire up the database. Next! And five thousand names pop up.
He is right about that. Up to a point. Given a large enough database and a sufficiently large number of registrants, it is possible to continuously burn through translators every time you drop a rung in the wage ladder. Translators will immediately mumble: “What about quality?” But that is not the point I want to make.

The type of workforce churn that Cowan is being so cavalier about comes at a cost. I know for a fact that their database is defective. I get called for projects long after I stopped answering their emails, out of sheer bewilderment. There are many other testimonies to that effect. They may claim to have 25,000 qualified people on their books. But how many of them are dead? Maintaining a database like that costs money. Do you seriously think a company as mediocre as Lionbridge is investing in that upkeep?
Of course not.

So the only option is to give the non-Spanish-speaking project manager the keys to the database and order him to use it like an Uzi. “Sprays emails all over Latin America, from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande, and wait for someone to reply on the other end.” And pray someone (anyone) answers quickly. And delivers on time. With each hiccup, each dead person, each stoner and each unqualified person whose work requires thorough cleanup by the editors, deadlines get missed, quality declines and unseen costs mount up.

That is the reality of work in the Death Star. You see, the real danger is not those fly-by-night scammers on the Internet. No, siree.

Lionbridge is not a sleek Formula One dragster that is raking up the profits as it squeezes its freelancers, as many translators naively seem to think. It is actually a rickety bucket of bolts wheezing along the information superhighway because its corporate clients are hoarding cash and putting the squeeze on it.

China? Yeah, right. China… Real-time translation? Suuuuure! I mean, IBM has only been working to crack that nut for… what? Fifty years? Sometime in the first quarter of 2011. Or maybe second quarterish...

The problem is that there appears to be no further room for real revenue growth.

But wait, what if we get some tape, scissors, glue and boogers and build our own online translation tool? And what if we charge our own translators to use it? And we charge them again for the privilege of getting to be picked for projects (a sure sign that quality is the first priority)? What do you think we can make off of that? Let’s slap some third-party machine translation doohicky and call it the future.
Well, the conference call also contains some numbers to that effect:
…we have about 2,000 users now or probably next year, at the end of the year we’ll have 3,3500 [probably 3,500] users [, so] that’s going well. And then the enterprise side of that, it could be anywhere – each sale to be anywhere from a $100,000 to $400,000, $500,000, that’s on translation workspace.
I can’t hazard any guesses as to how many enterprises will shell out half a million bucks for a translation memory tool with IBM’s machine translation dinosaur grafted on it. But I can hazard some guesses as to the revenue from individuals. Cowan states that “we have about 2,000 users now or probably next year”. To which I would say: “Dude, you either have them now or you don’t. You can’t have them now or next year.”

But let’s take his figure of 3,500 victims at face value. Let’s assume the best-case scenario, in which 3,500 people subscribe to Translation Workspace for the full-year freelancer price of $762 a year (much more expensive than all other competitors’ licenses, which don’t last a year but rather go on indefinitely). This would allow subscribers to process 80,000 words per month, which is 3,636 words a day in a month with 22 working days, a credible output for a translator. That comes to $2.67 million a year. This is the most that Lionbridge can tax its individual “vendors” for getting work from it.

That is still not even enough to cover the losses from a single quarter.

And as for enterprises, I can just imagine that small and medium-sized translation companies will be beating down the doors of Lionbridge to use the proprietary technology of a third-class competitor who will have total access to all of the confidential material of their clients.

So, basically, the industry leader is alienating its workforce and bashing its own reputation in the face like Robert De Niro in Goodfellas. And all for less than one percentage point of revenue, at best.
The question really is: Are the only translation scams coming from those shady companies who don’t pay freelancers?

Frankly, I would be very leery of a company whose 2011 business plan relies on the consumption capacity of freelancers. Especially when those freelancers are paid low wages because you yourself pay them low wages. And, yes, Henry Ford wanted to sell Model-Ts to his assembly line workers, but his idea was to pay them enough to buy the damned things.

Some commentators on this sorry episode have said things along the lines: “I wouldn’t work for them. But, hey, that’s the market. You’re free to take it or leave it. That’s capitalism.”

I’m sorry, but that’s not capitalism. That is feudalism.

And those lazy, lice-ridden, peasant-raping, God-fearing, noble landowners got thrown in the dustbin of history when people in cities and towns started inventing neat capitalist stuff like clocks and fractional reserve banking.

On whither side of the city walls art thou, my 21st century techno-peasant?

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.

A Personal Response to Lionbridge VP Didier Hélin’s Unilateral Demand of a 5% Discount

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a translation company of a goodly size must be in want of a discount from its freelance workforce. 
(Jane Austen) 

Another truth is that the bigger they are, the less you want to work for them.
As if to confirm the wisdom of the classics, last Friday afternoon, as I was wrapping up my work week, I abruptly received the following email from someone called Didier Hélin, Vice President of World Wide Vendor & Supply Chain Management at Lionbridge, a rather large translation company (although not as large, perhaps, as that title). I transcribe it in its entirety:
Dear Miguel Llorens,

The global economic downturn of 2008 and 2009 affected all of us. Together, as translation partners, we weathered this challenging and uncertain economic environment and demonstrated our value to clients worldwide. Today, while some economies are showing some signs of improvement, the overall demand environment remains fragile and volatile:

·         This week, The Economist commented that “industrial production in the USA fell by 0.2% in September, the first decline in more than a year”;
·         In October alone, the US Dollar lost 6% of its value against the Euro. Year-to-date the US Dollar also lost 6% of its value against the Japanese Yen;
·         Most economists predict little or no growth in Europe and Japan for 2011.

In today’s uncertain economic environment customers expect all of us to deliver “more for less”. To remain competitive, we are all demanding more from ourselves to meet these challenges.

Against the backdrop of this negative economic context, effective November 1, 2010 through January 1, 2011 we require all our partners to provide a 5% discount on all Lionbridge projects. This discount is independent of any other agreements we may have in place with you.

Lionbridge is not taking this step lightly and understands the effort it represents. Please keep in mind the following points:

·         In most markets, Lionbridge bears the full burden and risk associated with exchange-rate fluctuations; as a USD denominated company this means we have effectively seen our outsourcing costs rise by approximately 6% in the last month alone;
·         Lionbridge continues to put tremendous effort into securing new and existing customers and markets, effectively providing for our and YOUR future revenue streams;
·         To meet customer demands, Lionbridge has taken extraordinary steps to reduce its fixed costs and we will continue to do so. We ask our partners to do the same.

In closing, I want to reiterate Lionbridge’s commitment to increasing market demand for translation services by providing the industry’s most innovative, efficient and high-quality services that enable clients to extend their global reach. As our translation partner, your success is tightly aligned with our success. I want to personally thank you for the services you are providing to Lionbridge during these challenging times and I look forward to extending our partnership in 2011 and beyond.

Thank you,
Didier Hélin
Vice President
World Wide Vendor & Supply Chain Management
1050 Winter Street
Waltham, MA  02451
Wow, right? The first thing I must highlight is the fact that Monsieur Hélin was classy enough to send this mass email from a dummy address that shows upon my sender tab as: “

(The absence of Didier Hélin’s personal email address is indeed odd, since we are apparently on a first name and last name basis and “our success is tightly aligned.” However, a little googling allowed me to dig up Didier Hélin’s email: And his telephone number: 1 781 434 6000. Obviously, it is not a direct line, but I’m sure someone will patch you through. So if you want to reply to him personally, I am sure he is just waiting for your feedback.)

Dear Didier Hélin,

First of all, let me compliment you on the detail of addressing me as “Dear Miguel Llorens.” This in no way connotes that you simply made a mail merge from a database of thousands of people. It seems you were unable to figure out how to include just first names. So in addition to thrifty, you are really skillful with them newfangled contraptions, Didier Hélin.

Second of all, I must inform you that I do not work for Lionbridge. I was an infrequent and reluctant accomplice of your agency until some years ago, when I discontinued collaboration after coming to the conclusion that your project managers and I simply spoke different languages/lived on different planets/were not drinking the same Kool-Aid/were addicted to different hallucinogens. I distinctly remember the experience of getting a project request with twelve of thirteen pages of incomprehensible instructions. I subsequently opened the accompanying Excel file and was faced with an impenetrable wall of characters that did not resemble any human language I speak.

Seriously, Didier Hélin, I’m a smart dude. I went to college. I read a lot. And I’m experienced. But I swear to God that getting that Excel file from your project manager was a little like getting a message from aliens. On one hand, you are glad that there is non-human intelligence out there, but, on the other, since you can’t crack the code, you don’t know if it’s a Christmas card or an ultimatum prior to an invasion by the pod people.

So that was the end of my cooperation with Lionbridge. The hilarious thing is that your company is so… alternatively enabled, shall we say, is that I still get these absurd project proposals periodically from Lionbridge PMs asking me to test-drive a rhinoceros for an hour or measure the acidity of my running water. I ignore them, the same way a creationist paleontologist ignores the fossils that periodically fall on his head.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that your company exists. Indeed, I believe that you exist, Didier Hélin, in all your Euro-American glory, your Boston red Sox cap and can-do, gung-ho, go get’em attitude.
No, I ignore Lionbridge not because I doubt your existence. I ignore you because I simply do not want to work for you. And it’s not just low rates. It is mostly the robotic nature of your company. Your project managers appear to speak English, but, regardless of nationality, they just behave in an incomprehensible manner. They still pitch me projects years after I informed the company I didn’t want to work for it. They send me purchase orders I never open for projects I never accepted, and then email frantically several days afterward screaming: “Where are the files!!!?” The amazing thing is no one ever picks up a phone to confirm whether I died. It’s like the 21st century version of the final scene of Is Paris Burning?

You email is indicative of this same, inimitable Lionbridge style. It’s not just the robo-email. Not just the dummy address. It’s the entire drive-by nature of your message: “Welcome to Losertown! Population: You! And if you want a rebuttal, I’ll see you in the funnies!”
Although it is a little more than that. The content of your email, as another unfortunate recipient of your flaming bag of dog refuse has very calmly explained, is just as flawed (see the response here).
You see, Didier Hélin, in addition to being the front man for a not-very-efficient and not-well-liked corporate hierarchy, you’re also not very smart. And transparently, almost delightfully, so.
You cite, in the scintillating prose of the douchy middle manager, the fragility of the “overall demand environment”.

And to support your claim, you proceed to cite the following factoid: 

This week, The Economist commented that “industrial production in the USA fell by 0.2% in September, the first decline in more than a year”;
Oh… MY… GOD!!!! Industrial production fell 0.2% in September! “I think we’re going to have to wake up the president for this one, Didier Hélin.”

I mean, Jesus Christ, industrial production fell 0.2%! Do you know what that means?

It means that if this goes on, within 500 months there will be no industrial production at all!!!!

But that is 41.6 years from now, Didier Hélin.

If we’re both still around by then, by all means, I will be more than glad to give Lionbridge a 5% discount as we scavenge around the ruins of civilization for a can of sardines and a non-radioactive reservoir of fresh water.

In the mean time, however, please refrain from sending me any further messages.
Happy Halloween.

Your translation partner,

Miguel Llorens

Miguel Llorens is a freelance financial translator based in Madrid who works from Spanish into English. He is specialized in equity research, economics, accounting, and investment strategy. He has worked as a translator for Goldman Sachs, the US Government's Open Source Center and H.B.O. International, as well as many small-and-medium-sized brokerages and asset management companies operating in SpainTo contact him, visit his website and write to the address listed there. Feel free to join his LinkedIn network or to follow him on Twitter.