Patterns of Cognition

the online journal of Anton Shpigunov

The tearing line

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. We are about to land in Simferopol.” The voice over our heads continued, “please turn off your electronic devices and fasten your seat belts”.

We could see the yellow, sandy ground of Crimea closing in as the plane suddenly started climbing again. There was a murmur of surprise and disappointment running through the cabin among passengers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we were just refused permission to land by the destination airport.” The captain sounded nervous, making his accent even thicker. “Please stay calm as we reroute to a different airfield”.

“This is bizarre,” a nearby passenger  said. She was a Red Cross official who worked at conflict zones around the world with relief missions. “Even the Taliban wouldn’t do things like this. Russians have no idea what they’re doing.”

They had a damn good idea, I thought. Throughout the flight i had a feeling that something big was going on. It was as if the patchwork of the world as we knew it was being torn apart, and we were standing at the tearing line.

The plates underlying the international systems have started moving, and there is no avoiding their collisions.

Let’s Thank the Party’s Men for This

Amidst all the technical documentation and judicial documents written in incomprehensible legalese, a translator sometimes gets projects that are a pleasure to work on, even though it’s 3 AM and he’s tired as hell.

Real translation isn’t TRADOS, words and termbases. Real translation is where you start to think, create and play… like a child plays a fascinating game, if you please.

And it so happens that recently I’ve had quite a few of those. Either I grew enough to get these projects in the first place, or I grew enough to see the fun in the projects that I get – it’s hard to tell, but what matters is that they were once few and rare, and now there’s more.

Introductions aside, recently I had to translate a saying – “Спасибо * за это” into English. At first glance, it could be as easy as “Thanks to * for this”, couldn’t it? Well, not if you remember that back in 2011, a curiously sounding Russian hashtag #спасибопутинузаэто trended worldwide, bewildering non-Russian-speaking users.

So, it appears we have an Internet meme to translate. Or do we? Every selfish meme out there has most likely mutated or evolved from something else, but what was it? It didn’t take many search requests to reveal the answer.

Back in the 1920s, when communism was an idea that people actually still believed in, the Bolsheviks made up countless crisp, well-ringing, and most importantly, easily recognizable slogans that people could repeat at meetings, demonstrations or elsewhere. One of them was “Спасибо Партии за это!” (literally, thanks to the Party for this!), first used quite enthusiastically, but then with growing sarcasm that culminated in 1981 when the party used it quite seriously and the frustrated Soviet people turned it into an outright political joke. Amazing what 60 years can do the same words being used by the same people.

Anyway, now that we know where this generally comes from, we can grasp the saying’s style and purpose and figure out how to translate it. As of now, I saw at least three layers I needed to bring across into English:

  1. The literal meaning “thanks to somebody for this”;
  2. The style and rhyme of a slogan. Ideally, the target saying must retain the original’s meter: */*/***/* as in “спаСИбо ПАРтии за Это”
  3. The sarcastic meaning acquired over time

So this little problem has eventually revealed itself to be an equation with many variables – not as easy as it looked first, right?

For some translators, social networks are next to everything. This is where they meet their clients, sub-contractors to outsource work to, this is also where they publicly ridicule other translators’ work, post super-smart double-sarcastic quotes, and like their own comments posted under their own photos. My friend lists include quite a few such professionals – so I wondered – why not ask them to help me out with a cool puzzle for a change?

So I posted a question on VK and Facebook, and carried on with the rest of the text… In a few hours, I returned to find… nothing, despite lots of people on-line.

In a bit, though, I was surprised to find a reply from my friend Elena Shkarupa, an aspiring artist rather than a practicing translator:

for it we owe the Party

Cool, I replied, but what about the */*/***/* meter? It has to be something like:

we owe the party X for it,

where X has to be one stressed syllable.

After some sore tinkering, we ended up with:

Let’s thank our Party boys for it

Let’s thank our Party’s guys for it

Let’s thank our Party’s men for it – finally proposed by Lena, less the excessive sarcasm

and even made some sample slogans:

In winter, it ain’t cold a bit

Let’s thank the Party’s men for it!

***

We’ll blow our enemies to bits

Let’s thank dear Kim Jong-un for this!

among a few others. Pretty good for 20th century-style propaganda.

So after an amazing voyage back in time and some great teamwork, we got this one cracked. So,

We solved a puzzle tightly knit

Let’s thank Elena’s wit for it!

The Project Triangle

This, like many other things on this blog, isn’t exactly something new, but something I really want to reiterate and keep here, more for myself than anyone else.

So, before you take any task, work or project from anyone on earth, be it your client, manager or even a person whom you’re simply helping out, you need to be 100% positive about:

  1. What exactly they want from you – in what quantity, quality and form;
  2. When do they want to have it;
  3. What resources you have to do it.

Simple as that.

Thus, “I want you to make me some kind of a website or blog” is not a good project definition. “I need an online portfolio website to showcase my work by April 30 within a $500 budget”, on the other hand, is.

What I’ve found is that some people don’t know what they want, but are willing and ready to criticize the result. What’s more, some are being deliberately vague, which allows them to change their requirements during the job, or, better still, after it’s done.

That’s why – never, ever commit to do any work unless you know agree on these three points. Because if you do, all sorts of crap may and will happen.

 

AmneZia Project

My work has been featured in Oleksandr Mykhed’s AmneZia Project.

I had the pleasure of translating portions of the text, and some other supportive texts like the press release, etc., from Ukrainian into English.

This was by far one of the most linguistically difficult projects to date. The author makes extensive use of puns, alliterations, and other kinds of plays on words not even yet named.This, as well as the text’s very sophisticated structure, have made this truly a showcase project I may well be proud of.

What made it even more demanding was that it coincided with a very busy time at Intel Education in Ukraine, when we were coordinating Intel Eco-Ukraine and Intel Techno-Ukraine national science fairs — but both projects went excellent nevertheless!

You’ll be seeing these translations as AmneZia opens up the English version of its website, and meanwhile – enjoy the Ukrainian original.

***

Never give anyone something they didn’t ask you for. Chances are, they’re not ready for it anyway.

***

If you’re facing a contradiction, check your premises — one of them has got to be wrong.

My first workshop

Yesterday, as part of Intel’s volunteering program, I had the pleasure to  hold a public speaking workshop for 15-16-year old participants of the Kyiv City Small Academy of Sciences.

In this 2-hour session we discussed the basics of speaking and presentation skills for aspiring scientists. The session’s structure was inspired by the Toastmasters basic communication track, speaking books by Radislav Gandapas and other authors. Finally, I chose to include an expanded block on scientific research to help the participants better structure their current and upcoming research.

On the workshop, we talked about defeating stage fright, structuring a presentation, choosing and sticking to the purpose, choice of words, body language, vocal variety, topic research, visual aids, persuasion and a couple of other things.

After my presentation, we tried these tips in practice with three volunteers and had a very productive q&a session. It felt amazing to share experience with these kids – hope it helps them in their scientific careers, or any other endeavors they choose to pursue.

A report with pictures will come out in a few days on the Small Academy’s website – I’ll link to it here.

A Case Against Multitasking

Okay, it’s right about time to get one thing straight:

Multitasking doesn’t work.

Juggling is counterproductive.

While you can do many things at a time, to do something well, you must focus.

First, there is no such thing as “native” multitasking built into our brain. I know this because I researched how the brain works during simultaneous interpreting – a complex activity that includes listening comprehension, speaking and logical operations at the same time. I’ve written my master’s thesis on this and I have practiced simultaneous translation for years, and here is what I (and the papers I’ve read) have to say: the  brain can only do one thing at a time, all the rest are done unconsciously, only if practiced well enough beforehand, and split attention is actually small bursts of focus switching from one object to another.

A very bright example of this are mistakes during simultaneous interpretation – most of them are proven to occur when the interpreter has to do two or more previously unknown transformations at the same time. Which means that while skilled interpreters can listen and talk “automatically”, they can’t perform two logical operations at the same time. Ever. Under no circumstances. Period.

Secondly, I have quantitative data (thanks to RescueTime) showing higher productivity, better results (as shown by more completed tasks and more outbound emails when working from home), higher quality (fewer mistakes – spelling, editing, otherwise) – when working distraction-free. When multitasking, at the very least you need to tune out of the previous task and tune in to the new one, usually catching up with the progress made by your team members while you were at something else. Also, the loss of focus that inevitably accompanies task switching increases the risk of procrastination – in other words, you can accidentally start checking your Facebook updates between tasks and stay there for hours before you know it.

I’m not the only one who believes this – productivity authors Tim Ferriss, Leo Babauta,  Steve Pavlina and Tony Schwartz also value focus over juggling. There is also a growing body of academic research demonstrating that multitasking can decrease your productivity by up to 40% (see references in the bottom of this article)

Third. Multitasking is not inevitable. There are so many ways to work without erratically jumping from one issue to another, like planning, meaningful task allocation, specialization (as in, one person does one thing but does it really well, aka the UNIX way that has, by the way, successfully worked for over forty years), and things like delegation and automation that I mentioned before. Everything can be split up into little tidbits of tasks that can be digested – one at a time. And while results are what finally matters, it is better process that allows great results.

Therefore, multitasking and instant responsiveness is bull.

I either respond to your calls, emails, IMs, etc., or I do stuff.

And I prefer the latter.

Trends 2013

http://www.economist.com/blogs/theworldin2013/2012/11/global-trends-2013?fsrc=scn/tw/te/tr/toptenbusiness

As 2012 draws to a close, the forecasts for the next year come trickling in. Here is one by the Economist.

What’s really interesting is that one of the predictions falls in line with a previous article of mine.

I’ll be posting more trendcasts throughout December.

Opportunity Thinking

When you know that a wave is coming, a great freakin’ tsunami that’s going to sweep you away and there’s nothing you can do to stop it, you can either deny it and go down when it hits you, or take out your surfboard, get on top and start riding it.

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