High-tech

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High-tech

Post by Stevenloan » Mon Sep 20, 2021 4:34 pm

Hi everyone! As far as I am concerned, Erik, trolley, Phil White, tony h, Bob, BonnieL and Ken Greenwald are retired now. Is it correct? Were you a high-tech person when you still had a job?

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

StevenLoan
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Re: High-tech

Post by trolley » Mon Sep 20, 2021 6:54 pm

I was the Operations Manager for a wholesale grocery distribution company...not too high tech, at all.
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Re: High-tech

Post by Stevenloan » Tue Sep 21, 2021 1:31 am

trolley : Thanks a lot for your answer. Have a good day.

StevenLoan
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Re: High-tech

Post by Erik_Kowal » Tue Sep 21, 2021 3:23 am

It rather depends on what you consider to be "high-tech", Steven. For a translator/copy editor like me, the chief tool of the trade today is a computer plus the necessary software for performing a broad range of associated tasks.

That's a commonplace set-up in a whole lot of occupations these days, but when I first started working for a translation company in the late 1980s the PC was still a novelty in most offices, the internet didn't yet exist, and where I was working we still used the postal service ​to send and receive floppy disks to/from translators and proofreaders so that we could upload their work onto our PCs. (As a side note, their hard drives had an impressive capacity of between 20-40 MB rather than one falling into the terabyte range, as would be typical of today's office machines. The floppy disks we sent back and forth could accommodate a massive 360 KB, and the later 3.5" disks held as much as 720 KB or even — I think — 1.4 MB!!! So to avoid clogging up the hard drives with old jobs we would only store those jobs as floppies once they were no longer current.)

We also used the fax machine a lot to receive translation jobs and enquiries, and to send them on to our external translators. Nowadays people usually use email for this kind of purpose (not least because it is more confidential, being viewable only by the addressee(s)), but back in the late 1980s and early 90s the immediacy of the fax was a great boon in our office. If a document needed to be sent somewhere urgently and there was some reason that it couldn't be faxed, we would usually use a courier service to take it there physically (either as a printout or on a floppy disk). Or sometimes a local translator or client would come to the office and pick up or deliver the work.

Microsoft Word was still in its infancy both in terms of sophistication and market position, so it was by no means the dominant word processing workhorse that it eventually became; like the vast majority of our pool of external translators and proofreaders, we handled our documents using WordPerfect (to begin with, as version 5.0) on standalone PCs running successive iterations of the MS-DOS operating system. (Microsoft's Windows 3.1 OS did not arrive in our office till 1993. Its novel virtue was that instead of line commands it was controlled via a mouse and a graphical user interface, which at the time seemed revolutionary but also daunting.)

Until the time I left the company in 1995 we were still using WordPerfect 5.1 (which by then was a networkable version of the program), having collectively invested far too many hours in becoming proficient in that very capable but complex program for anyone in the office to have any enthusiasm for switching to MS Word; the latter, with its alien-seeming graphical interface, was then a largely unknown quantity to us, and was judged to be too great a commercial risk for us to give up WordPerfect for. We had also written countless WordPerfect macros to fully or semi-automate a large variety of formatting tasks. This was an important stage in preparing the final versions of the translations before they were handed over (or more usually posted) to our customers. So the likelihood that we would have to recreate all that from scratch for MS Word, and have to contend with additional steep learning curves while doing so, was also a significant consideration for us.

Getting back to the communications technology, I believe it was only in about 1990 that the company acquired a modem. If I recall correctly, it could transmit at a rate of 1200 baud and receive at 2400 — in theory, anyway.

In the beginning, we used our modem to connect directly to the modem of a remote translator over a phone line reserved for that purpose; it could sometimes take half an hour or even longer to receive a large document. **

Later, my boss paid a lecturer at the local technical college to set up a bulletin board as an interface between our company and the translators for exchanging documents. That was a big improvement on the direct phone connection, since it meant that both we and our translators had a lot more flexibility in scheduling our uploading and downloading of documents. This was because the fact that they could send and retrieve material via the bulletin board in parallel with each other meant that nobody was competing any longer for direct access to the phone line our modem was connected to.

My employer also experimented with CompuServe (an early provider of email services), but I recall that as being considered problematic for several reasons.

One was that your online address was essentially a string of hard-to-remember numbers; user-devised email addresses as we know them today did not then exist on CompuServe. So our verbal recitations of our CompuServe address over the phone were prone to being mistranscribed at the other end, with predictable consequences.

But mostly we did not use it routinely because it was an expensive way of connecting to other users; and likewise, most of the freelancers whose language services we used did not yet see the need to pay extra for it when they could manage without, and therefore had not signed up with the service.

It was in the early 1990s too that my boss decided to connect all the standalone PCs in the office (of which I think there were five) via a network. Networking technology too was still in its infancy. The big beast and chief contender in the market at that time was Novell, but for some reason — almost certainly a lower sticker price — my boss decided to purchase a networking program called Torus, which was the product of a small team of developers headquartered somewhere in East Anglia (i.e. somewhat north and east of London). Its constant crashes, frequent version updates/bug fixes and equally frequent malfunctioning connectivity required multiple visits from an expensive consultant who would have to drive from East Anglia to the Thames Valley, a round trip of around 7 hours, to fix it each time. It was a fraught relationship, to say the least.

The network was necessary for the operation of my employer's bespoke translation administration program, which had been written for him by a relatively new IT graduate who also worked at the local tech college. This program would generate a job number for each incoming assignment from a customer in order to tie together essential admin-related data about them, the translator (and proofreader, if any), and billing. It too required constant tweaking, which mostly reflected my employer's steadily growing wishlist of program features and capabilities. These enhancements were beneficial for us in theory, but in practice every upgrade brought with it the potential to break existing features or make the entire application unstable. (When that kind of thing happened my boss was not a lot of fun to be around.)

One of the projects for which I had originally been hired involved trying to implement and help establish the use of a particular program my employer had licensed from its developer. Its purpose was to allow you to construct subject- and language-specific glossaries for particular terms that theoretically enforced the consistency of translation for these terms. But unfortunately the effort needed turned out to be considerable, and required more cooperation from our external translators than they had either the time or the willingness to provide. So we ultimately had to drop this project.

I know this description probably makes our technology back then sound pretty amateurish, but at the time we felt very much as though we were pioneers struggling to expand the frontiers of what was possible in terms of office productivity and efficiency with the help of these groundbreaking technologies — laughable though that must sound today, when most office technology is both far more sophisticated and easier to use than it was those three decades ago.

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** This was especially the case with a particular French translator we regularly used who refused to upgrade her modem from one that was only capable of 300 baud. She was highly proficient in her translations, but could be intimidating to deal with when she did not agree with something you had asked her to do or if you questioned any aspect of her output, which we often had to do because she was apt to ignore our standard request to use minimal formatting. She — like quite a few other translators who had begun their careers using regular typewriters — would usually lay out her work to match the original using the spacebar and hard carriage returns. This created a lot of extra work for us in stripping out this incompetent formatting, and sometimes caused us almost to tear our hair out, especially when we were working to a tight deadline.

At least we could breathe a sigh of relief when she eventually delegated the technical aspects of sending and receiving documents to her much more mild-mannered English boyfriend, whose girlfriend-wrangling skills we would also lean on now and again to pass on requests which nobody in our office relished putting to her directly.
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Re: High-tech

Post by Stevenloan » Wed Sep 22, 2021 12:41 pm

Erik : I would like to thank you so much for the incredibly detailed answer. It is interesting to read it, indeed. Enjoy your day.

StevenLoan
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Re: High-tech

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Sep 22, 2021 2:38 pm

I worked for Swansea Council. Not at all high tech. Just a desk, computer and telephone.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: High-tech

Post by BonnieL » Wed Sep 22, 2021 3:00 pm

Low-tech here. I was a data entry operator in the '70s & '80s. The most fun we had with our computers was playing hangman - the only game available to us. We also made punch cards to produce banners. Big waste of paper! :D
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Re: High-tech

Post by Stevenloan » Thu Sep 23, 2021 3:15 am

Bob and BonnieL : Thank you both so much for your input. Have a nice day.

StevenLoan
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