The heartless translator (A short story)

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Once upon a time, there was this poor translator with a worn-out heart. After living a thousand loaned lives and riding the frantic roller coaster of getting into and out of the skin of a myriad of characters penned and fleshed out by others, after spending a thousand sleepless nights and dreaming of unsolvable ambiguities and impossible deadlines when he did get some sleep, the fibers of his heart had gotten threadbare.

Doctors were helpless at fixing such a life-threatening problem, until one of them came up with the idea of the clockwork machine. It was implanted right inside the hollow space that used to hold his heart, and it started working right away—tick, tack; tick, tack. The translator soon recovered his health, but never got his magic back. He was still able to translate to the best of his mind, but he was missing a heart. And a heart is not something a translator can do without.

Nora Torres © 2012 All Rights Reserved

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El traductor feliz (un cuento corto)

 

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Había una vez un experimentado pescador que se hacía a la mar cada mañana, con la misma frescura y el mismo entusiasmo que un novato. Navegaba diestramente, recorriendo el agua oscura y densa de las palabras en busca de aquellas que necesitaba, como si en ello le fuera la vida.

Con el tiempo, había dejado de usar las toscas redes de sus comienzos para empezar a pescar con señuelo, desarrollando una técnica minuciosa, sistemática, que llegó a dominar con suma destreza. En ocasiones, se dejaba llevar por la corriente, indolente, y esos ratos de ocio le permitían descubrir matices, tonos, luces y sombras que enriquecían su escritura y encendían su creatividad.

Regresaba por la tarde a la costa, con el fruto del trabajo realizado en las complejidades del océano lingüístico: los sustantivos más adecuados, los adjetivos más acertados, los verbos más convenientes y los adverbios más felices, que iba hilvanando con preposiciones, conjunciones e interjecciones especialmente elegidas aquí y allá.

Trasnochaba sentado a la mesa de la cocina, poniendo la carga en orden, limpiando cada pieza y asegurándose de que todo estuviera en su sitio, en perfecta armonía y absoluto equilibrio. Entregaba su trabajo y se sentía el ser más feliz de la Tierra.

A la mañana siguiente, después de tomar una taza de café caliente y de comer uno o dos bollos, abría la puerta de la cabaña y, con el sol bañándole la cara, volvía a tomar la barca y a arrastrarla hasta la orilla de la mar, donde las palabras se rompían en blanca espuma y lo invitaban, una vez más, a comenzar otra jornada de trabajo.

Nora Torres

Traductora

© 2017 Todos los derechos reservados

Freelance Lifehacking for Translators: Are you battling or fixing?

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What is battle-mode

Battle: 1250-1300; Middle English bataile < Old French < Vulgar Latin *battālia for Late Latin battuālia (neuter plural) gladiatorial exercises, equivalent to battu (ere) to strike + -ālia, neuter plural of -ālis.

Battle-mode is a state of mind whereby a freelancer undertakes gladiatorial exercises.

You might recognize this mode. When you’ve got a tight deadline on a nightmarish project, you might shift into battle-mode in order to finish your project on time. In general, battle-mode happens when you really need to fight through something.

Sometimes, there’s no other option than to fight through a problem, but other times we could solve the problem instead of fighting through it. I think we go through cycles of battling and big picture solutions, which is probably why vacations are crucial to performance.

Freelancers in particular have this problem

There are many benefits to being a freelancer. Everyone knows somebody who’s tearing it up on their freelancer lifestyle.

Yet, freelancers often have the battle-mode problem, because as a freelancer, you’re responsible for a whole lot of things: your computer, your budget, your house, your office, your chair, your desk, your health—in fact, you’re responsible for everything in your life, personally and professionally, plus your actual work.

As you work toward solving issues one by one, sometimes you can get into battle-mode and then forget that there was a solution to your problem in the first place. Freelancers can sometimes get stuck in battle-mode for several years, whether it’s an inadequately furnished home office, issues with late payments and rates, or stuff to do with the computer.

In fact, right now I’m sitting with awful posture on a kitchen chair, and I’m thinking back one year when I was sitting on this same chair thinking, “I’ll buy a fancy office chair this summer.” A few international trips and big expenses later and I still don’t have my new fancy chair. But why am I sitting on a kitchen chair? Because I’ve been in battle-mode.

Big battles and little battles

Freelancers can get into some huge battles. At the end of the day, the complete tilt toward self-reliance combined with the lack of guarantees and being the last one on the food chain (when the customer gets squeezed, who will they pay first?) makes many freelancers vulnerable to perfect storm scenarios.

If you have some financial difficulties, get paid late, lose a customer, incur some medical bills, etc. all at the same time, you could end up in serious battle-mode that goes beyond the office chair.

Regardless of the size of you battle, the solution is almost always to create some distance between yourself and the problem. Meditation is becoming a very popular thing to do, and I’ve noticed that freelance people in particular recognize the benefits.

Fixing vs. fighting

When you are in battle-mode, you can do very well at individual tasks, so it’s not a total failure. However, you can also lose track of the big picture and fail to make choices that would help you.

Case in point: I had been in battle-mode with my email client (Thunderbird) for months. It was working slowly and crashing. When I entered into my email, it was like I was a pirate raiding an 17th century clipper. “I’m going in! Aaaarrrrrgggghhhhhh!” And I would slay 10 second email loading times, crashes, and the archive button not working, all sorts of foes. My prize? Sending and receiving emails.

Why didn’t I fix it sooner? Because my customers were calling, the easy solutions didn’t work, so after fifteen minutes of “fixing,” I would inevitably go back to “work.”

So yesterday I fixed my email client, finally. It only took 4 hours, but now that my email is working, I realize just how bad my email client was! Why didn’t I fix it sooner? Because I was fighting! I would’ve been so much happier if I had fixed it months ago.

The solution: You deserve it.

Your customers are calling… But take adequate time to fix your problems anyway.

Ask yourself, What am I battling right now? When am I fighting and not fixing?

For freelance translators, aside from personal/business matters, this often means fighting with tools that you use and the types of jobs that you take. If your software setup is slowing you down considerably, maybe it’s time for a change. As with my email software, these are often the hardest to fix, not because they’re literally hard to fix, but because it feels like you’ve already invested so much in a way of doing things that it would simply be too hard to change. With many problems/solutions, what we often don’t realize is just how good things can be after fixing the problem.

Another good idea is to look at intermediate steps, rather than waiting for big solutions. If you’re saving money to get a new office chair, maybe you can go get an old one somewhere in the meantime.

Tackle those fixes as if they were little investments that will pay you back over time. I think you’ll be glad that you did!

Who wrote this guest post?

Robert Rogge (Thank you, Robert! You rock!)

Robert is CEO of Zingword, launching soon… A place where translators get great jobs and businesses can find them easily. Launching a startup is not easy, so he’s been trying to stay healthy and take care of himself while also building Zing.

 

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Robert digs literature, cooking, travel, music, running, swimming, and basketball, and is hosting a podcast for translators, Translator City Radio, which recently added a cha-ching sound effect to the mix. Lately, he’s been listening to Vaporwave.

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Photo Acknowledgment

Kick Chess Piece Standing photo used under Creative Commons (CC0) License

Keep yourself from losing your memory to the Internet

Unplug. Slow down. Search your brain.

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Introduction

The development of the Internet may have been the most significant technological innovation since the invention of the printing press. It has simplified and speeded up the search for information in ways that were unimaginable until a few decades ago. However, its harmful effects on the attention, concentration and memory capacity of those who make an intensive use of Internet search tools are starting to become evident. In this respect, we, translators, are not the exception— Both for those who were born in the digital era and for the ones, like me, who have followed information technology advancements in awe, the use of the Internet in our profession is a bare necessity, and we can no longer picture ourselves doing without it. What is more, we cannot imagine ourselves doing without the Internet in our personal lives either. But we will need to find ways to prevent this from interfering with basic functions of our brains.

A translator’s work, in figures

Typically, we translate about 3,000 words per day, which means that, on average, the number of words we translate per hour is about 300, and the number of words we translate per minute is about 5. Thus, we usually make at least two terminology-related “micro-decisions” per minute while at work, and the number of such micro-decisions we make on any given day is about 1,200. One thousand two hundred times a day we face the challenge of finding a mother-tongue equivalent to a term in a foreign language, or vice versa. If the text we are translating is not completely familiar to us, or if it has not been written in a clear, consistent manner, the size of the challenge can increase exponentially.

It is at this point where the resource that has most deeply transformed our research work, i.e., the use of the Internet, comes into play. Today, it would be unthinkable for us to work without a high-speed, uninterrupted access to the Internet. In fact, many of us have signed up with more than one Internet service provider as part of our contingency plans.

For experienced translators working in a narrow field of specialization, it is relatively simple to find reliable sources of information to achieve higher levels of accuracy and speed. Today, the use of the Internet is vital, e.g., in the development of specialized linguistic corpora, a common tool of our trade in the present state of things.

But many of us never imagined that the 1,200 micro-decisions we usually make during the 10 hours we connect ourselves to the Internet every day, sometimes 7 days a week, would end up changing how our brains work, our capacity to quickly remember basic data, and our ability to focus on fairly short pieces of reading.

Negative effects of the ease of access to information

Since time immemorial, humans have relied not only on the information stored in their own brains, but also on specific data for the preservation of which other members of their social groups are “responsible.” At home, for example, it may be the mother who usually remembers birthdays, while it may be the father who knows which soccer team came in third in the World Championship ten years ago.

This distribution of memory tasks avoids the unnecessary duplication of efforts and helps expand the group’s collective memory capacity. By off-loading responsibility for certain types of information, we free up cognitive resources that would otherwise be required to remember such information; instead, we use them to increase the depth of our knowledge in the areas we consider ourselves to be in charge of.

As helpful as this approach may be, though, it needs to be used with care. Socrates already regretted how detrimental writing would be to human memory in the long run, as individuals, rather than recalling things on their own, had started to depend on the written word. At present, for all practical purposes, it seems to be no longer efficient for us to use our brains to store information. But we must acknowledge that near-constant use of the Internet has formidable effects on our lives. Some people compare the Internet to an “outboard brain” or an external hard drive, with a memory capacity much larger than that a human brain has —or needs, for that matter. Researchers are concerned that the use of the Internet may be as addictive as alcohol or tobacco, encouraging the same kind of compulsive behaviors.

The ease of access to information, one of the primary benefits of Internet use, is having profound effects on our ability to retain the information acquired. Currently completed studies suggest that it can alter the mechanisms our brains use to build long-term memory. According to Elias Aboujaoude, M.D., psychiatrist and investigator at Stanford University, “Why bother to remember when all information is at our fingertips […]. Memorizing has become a lost art as we have moved from cramming our brains to cramming our hard drives and virtual stores.”

Nowadays, we can instantly access the entire contents of human memory through a straightforward, quick search on the Internet. It is held by many that, as a result of this immediacy, Internet use is impairing our cognitive abilities, undermining our impulse to store information in our own biological memory banks, which has come to be labeled as the “Google Effect.”

In his controversial article Is Google Making Us Stupid?, American writer Nicholas Carr, expert in the new communication technologies, states: “Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping my neural circuitry, reprogramming my memory. My mind isn’t going—as far as I can tell—but it’s changing.”

Two plagues of the Information Age: the feeling of knowing (FOK) and the tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) experiences

Two of the most significant phenomena caused by the continuous use of technology to access information are the uncomfortable feeling of knowing (i.e., the certainty that you have knowledge of some piece of information in spite of being unable to retrieve it from your memory at a given time), and the tip-of-the-tongue state, or presque vu (French for “almost seen”), a state similar to the feeling of knowing, but in which retrieval is perceived as actually imminent).

These days, we do not make so much of an effort to remember data, as we do to remember how and where to locate them. If we are asked, e.g., to translate the name of a specific bone in the human body, our first reaction will most likely not be to think about human anatomy at all, but to try and figure out how to resolve the query using the Internet. Additionally, there are studies showing that, once we find the piece of data we are looking for, we tend to memorize not the data itself, but rather how and where we have found it so we can tackle the difficulty more easily if faced with it again later.

How adjusting to the excess of information is changing our behaviors

The vastness of the information available on the WWW utterly beats our ability to take it in, at least within a reasonable amount of time. As discussed above, more often than not, we nearly mechanically perform a search on the Internet before probing our own memories, and we tend to use, many times without being fully aware of it, a series of techniques that allow us to adjust to such an overload of data. These include:

  • Skimming, or reading a piece of writing quickly and actively, while focusing on identifying the main idea; this involves using strategies such as locating key words and anchoring our attention to typographical markers (e.g., underlined, bold, italicized, or highlighted words; headings and subheadings; diagrams, charts, tables; etc.).
  • Scanning, i.e., sweeping our eyes over chunks of text in search for specific pieces of information (e.g., proper or common nouns, numbers, dates, or other specific data), while ignoring the rest of the contents.
  • Previewing, to help determine whether the material can be helpful to us. The strategies we use in this case include examining the title, determining the name of the author, the date of the publication, etc.; reading the abstract or introduction, if any, or the first sentence of each paragraph, in search for relevant information; or checking the table of contents to get a general idea of what the material is about.

These reading methods enable us to access a large amount of information in a much shorter period of time, but it is thought that, once these methods become a habit, they can prevent us from concentrating on reading for long, and make us more prone to distraction.

Even though this does not largely affect the translation process —usually an active task—, it does become evident when proofreading or editing, which are, by their own nature, more passive activities. When doing so, we may mechanically tend to use the reading methods discussed above, with the unfortunate consequences that can be readily inferred. We may find ourselves sweeping our eyes over a piece of translated text, instead of reading it slowly, carefully, one word at a time, paying attention to punctuation marks and errors that may have escaped the spell checker.

It is also becoming apparent that these routines, which we may find so helpful at work, are little by little pervading our personal lives as well. In this context, we may grow increasingly reluctant to read lengthy articles or pieces of news and even books, or become impatient when having to listen to someone who does not quickly get to the point. Our pressing need for “mining” relevant information without much ado may turn into somewhat of an obsession for us. The same technology that allows us to be increasingly dynamic is, at the same time, leading us to display more and more rigid behaviors.

How to counteract, at least in part, the Google Effect

The good news is that we can reverse, even if only to some extent, these effects.

The most helpful approach seems to be avoiding quick, absent-minded reading, focusing on engaging in deep, careful reading, and making a conscious effort to consolidate the information acquired. In other words, the best thing we can do is build our concentration and nourish our long-term memory[1], the two aspects most severely affected by intensive, mechanical use of Internet search engines.

In addition to being pleasurable, deep reading stimulates the storage of information in the human memory. In her essay Traduction-interaction  : Lectures interactives et interactionnelles comme préparation à la traduction, Jeanne Dancette underlines the usefulness of “summarizing, stopping at obstacles and going back to verify or clarify an issue, and making anticipations and projections based on what we are reading.” These can be good starting points to [re]develop our reading ability, and, perhaps, to recover our old pleasure for reading.

Now, let’s see how to implement this in our translation practice by increasing our attention when reading, consolidating information in our long-term memory, and tapping our own internal resources.

  • Although time pressures are a common feature of most translation-related jobs, reading the text carefully and stopping at any difficulties or obscurities it may present (preferably before starting the translation task itself) could be an excellent way of approaching a new job. Many of us already do this as part of our routines, which helps us get a thorough understanding of the source text before we try to accurately convey it in our target language.
  • And while we are translating, it could also be extremely helpful for us to spend a few minutes, or even just a few seconds, trying to remember terms or expressions we are certain to have seen before —or to attempt to make some kind of anticipation or prediction about them— before performing a search on the Internet.

The mere fact of making the effort to memorize will help reeducate our brains, rewiring our brain synapses to help us learn new ideas and skills, not only at the present time, but also in the future.

Storing information in our long-term memory requires going through a process known as consolidation. If the information is not consolidated, it is forgotten. Storing pieces of data and establishing connections between them requires a large degree of concentration and intellectual or emotional commitment. It is also important to note that, given the way in which the human brain works, long-term memory processing requires several hours and occurs primarily during resting time. Sleeping well is therefore key in order not to forget what we have learned.

Conclusion

If we consistently use the Internet as an immediate resource, neglecting our own memory banks and bypassing our internal consolidation processes, it will not take long for us to see the consequences on our long-term memory.

The more we use the Internet, letting ourselves be swiftly carried from one site to another via search engines and hyperlinks, the more we are training our brains for distraction, for processing information in a quick and efficient way, but without sustained attention. We need to take action fast if we want to keep this from affecting us permanently. And we should not underestimate the power of the human brain, for which —unlike a computer, no matter how sophisticated— the sky is the limit.

 

[1] We can distinguish between three types of memory, i.e., sensory memory, which can last just a few seconds (it becomes evident, e.g., when retrieving from our memories something we have just heard, after apparently having missed it); short-term memory, which can last from a few minutes to a few hours; and long-term memory, which can last years.

 

This article has been adapted to English from: Traduzco, luego olvido

 

Acknowledgment:

Photo used with permission from the author, photographer Salvatore Dore. https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmind2_0

All rights reserved.

 

Bibliography

American Psychological Association, APA, 2010. APA. Diccionario conciso de psicología. 1st ed. Colombia: Editorial El Manual Moderno.

Carles Soriano Mas, 2007. Fundamentos de Neurociencia/ Fundamentals of Neuroscience (Manuales/ Psicología) (Spanish Edition). Edition. EDIUOC.

Greenblatt, A., 2010. Impact of the Internet on Thinking: Is the Web Changing the Way We Think? CQ Researcher, [Online], Volume 30, Number 33, 773-796. Available at: http://www.sagepub.com/ritzerintro/study/materials/cqresearcher/77708_interthink.pdf [Accessed 18 May 2015].

Lecto-comprensión de la lengua inglesa. 2012. Textos en inglés y en español: elementos en común. [ONLINE] Available at: http://monterofabiana.blogspot.com.ar/2012/10/teoria-y-actividades.html?view=magazine. [Accessed 18 May 15].

Nicholas Carr. 2008. Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/. [Accessed 17 May 15].

Nicholas Carr, 2011. Superficiales (The Shallows) (Spanish Edition). Edition. Taurus.

Rodríguez, E. (2003). La lectura. Cali (Valle, Colombia): Programa Editorial Universidad del Valle.

Wegner, Daniel M. et al, 2013. The Internet Has Become the External Hard Drive for Our Memories. Scientific American, [Online], Volume 309, Issue 6, N/A. Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-internet-has-become-the-external-hard-drive-for-our-memories/?page=1 [Accessed 18 May 2015].

Stuck? A walk in the park may be all you need

A walk in the park_Aina Photography

Every time you do a translation, you are creating a unique piece of work. Quoting David Bellos, “Give a hundred competent translators a page to translate, and the chances of any two versions being identical are close to zero.” This is because each of us contributes a unique combination of knowledge, experience, and technique. This post focuses on improving the technique-side of the job by letting the right hemisphere of our brain (and thus valuable inner resources) go on stage.

Left Brain, Right Brain

Most people agree that their best creative ideas strike them while they are in one of the so-called “Three Bs” (bus, bed, bath). Only about 3% of all creative ideas occur at work, with the remaining 97% developing while walking, on the street, hanging around with friends.

The reason why creative ideas sparkle when we are relaxed or engaged in other, most often totally unrelated activities, appears to be that, in those situations, we are using the right hemisphere of our brains more actively. Even when recent research has made groundbreaking discoveries in this respect, and has definitely debunked the myth of “right-brained” and “left-brained” personality types, it has shown that this division of labor allows each hemisphere to work semi-independently and take different approaches to the same problem. While the left hemisphere is more focused on details, the right hemisphere is better at perceiving overall patterns. The left hemisphere is logical, sequential, rational, analytical, and looks at parts, with the right one behaving more randomly, intuitively, holistically, synthesizing, and looking at wholes.

Translating is, after all, more of a creative process than many would think

You definitely need your left hemisphere when translating; grasping exact meanings, finding the right words, arranging them in the correct order are all left-brain tasks. Occasionally, however, even for these tasks, you need to allow your creative side to run free because dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other resources do not always readily provide you with the solution you are looking for. You cannot do an essentially creative job using your left brain only.

For your left brain, everything needs to be black and white. But you know that, when you are writing, trying to give your text a natural flavor, or restructuring a phrase in a more freely fashion so that it will not sound foreign to a reader, you can have a full range of rainbow colors. This drives your left brain absolutely crazy, as it desperately tries to pigeon-hole what you do into black and white. And, of course, it fails. In those instances, your right hemisphere is required to step in.

Has it ever happened to you that you get so caught up in looking for a specific word that you miss the big picture until you take a break and go walk your dog? Or that you wake up right in the middle of the night, and suddenly come to understand what that seemingly inarticulate phrase meant? At those times, you have pushed your left hemisphere into the background, and let the right one step up. Translating involves a lot of thinking, mulling over, and weighing up, and you’ve probably noticed just how much clearer your mind is after a break of some sort, esp. one in which you do not think about work at all. A break appears to be particularly important in improving our ability to have insights (the ‘aha’ moment, when something that did not make sense suddenly becomes clear). It is non-linear problem solving, and that is the way we solve many complex problems.

Unleashing the creative potential of your brain

If what you are doing is driving you nuts, stop the (bullying) left side of your brain and invite your (shy) right hemisphere to work. This will allow you to see the big picture, the connections between isolated pieces of information. You need to find the path to your right brain in order to tackle the same job in a totally different way.

Take a break, if only a small one. Get some rest, you can just lie on the floor and relax your back for a few minutes; it may make a big difference. Alternatively, you can get out of the house for a walk. Go jogging. Jump, run, or otherwise put your body on the move. Do some gardening (this works wonders for me). Or, you can listen to music, or better yet, play it! Or use humor! Laughter sets you free from the tyrannical rule of logic and linearity. You will soon find out what works best for you.

Doing this will allow you to:

  • Keep a rested mind, so as not to get stuck with the wrong answers.
  • Keep a quiet mind, to be able to notice the subtle brain signals occurring when you are close to solving a problem by insight (the ‘aha’ moment).
  • Keep a happy mind, an open mind, which will trigger a broader awareness of internal information, allowing access to the signals immediately preceding the ‘aha’ moment.
  • Take critical distance— the farther away from an idea, the fewer details you hold in your mind, and the more context you can perceive.

We definitely need both sides of our brain at work. The trick consists in knowing how to easily shift from one to the other.

 

References:

The Truth About The Left Brain / Right Brain Relationship, by Tania Lombrozo, December 02, 2013, http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2013/12/02/248089436/the-truth-about-the-left-brain-right-brain-relationship, Accessed 05 April 2014.

Una mente, dos cerebros, by Proyéctate ahora, 21 March 2011, http://www.proyectateahora.com/12/, Accessed 03 April 2014.

Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques, by Michael Michalko, December 2010, Random House LLC

Brain and Realities, by Jay Alfred, 2006, Trafford Publishing

Back From a Vacation? Don’t Waste Your Clear Mind, Published 29 May 2012 by David Rock in Your Brain at Work, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-brain-work/201205/back-vacation-dont-waste-your-clear-mind, Accessed 05 April 2014

How To Stop Your Left Brain From Thinking, by Sean D’Souza, http://www.psychotactics.com/blog/left-brain-thinking/, Accessed 07 April 2014

 

Photo by courtesy of Aina Photography, http://bit.ly/1WiKtJ7. All rights reserved.

 

This article was originally posted on Lingua Greca Translations Blog under the title of Tips for Translators: Shift to Right-Brain Mode to Improve Your Productivity at Work, on May 19, 2014:

Tips for Translators: Shift to Right-Brain Mode to Improve Your Productivity at Work

Traduzco, luego olvido

El uso continuo de Internet en la profesión del traductor: ¿aliado incondicional o enemigo silencioso?

2. Traduzco, luego olvido_photo

Todos sabemos que el advenimiento de la red informática mundial, mejor conocida como Internet, ha sido, quizás, el avance tecnológico más importante desde la invención de la imprenta, simplificando y acelerando la búsqueda de información de maneras inimaginables hasta hace unas décadas. Lo que tal vez sea novedad para algunos es que ya están empezando a sentirse sus consecuencias nefastas en la capacidad de atención y concentración y en la memoria de quienes usan Internet de continuo. En este sentido, los traductores no somos la excepción: tanto para los que nacieron en la era digital como para los que fuimos testigos asombrados de los actuales avances en tecnología de la información, el uso de Internet en nuestra profesión es imprescindible y ya no podemos imaginar trabajar de otro modo. Es más, los límites son bastante difusos y tampoco podemos imaginar prescindir de Internet en nuestra vida personal. Tendremos que hallar maneras de evitar que ello nos lleve a prescindir de funciones básicas de nuestro cerebro.

La labor del traductor, en cifras

Un traductor típico traduce habitualmente tres mil palabras por día; puede decirse entonces que, en promedio, la cantidad de palabras que traduce por hora es de aproximadamente trescientas y, por minuto, de alrededor de cinco. Esto significa que los traductores tomamos al menos dos «microdecisiones» terminológicas por minuto mientras trabajamos, y que la cantidad de microdecisiones de este tipo que tomamos en un día cualquiera es de alrededor de mil doscientas.

Mil doscientas veces al día nos entregamos al desafío de encontrar en nuestra lengua el equivalente a una palabra en un idioma extranjero o viceversa. Si el texto que estamos traduciendo no nos es absolutamente familiar, o si no está escrito de manera clara y coherente, la magnitud de ese desafío puede multiplicarse exponencialmente.

Es aquí es donde entra en escena el recurso que ha transformado más profundamente la labor de investigación del traductor: el uso de Internet. Para los traductores experimentados, dedicados a un campo de especialización específico, es relativamente sencillo encontrar fuentes de información confiables que nos permitan trabajar con mayor rigor y celeridad. El uso de Internet es un recurso prácticamente indispensable, por ejemplo, en la compilación de corpus lingüísticos de especialidad, una de las herramientas de uso habitual en nuestro trabajo, que nos permite determinar cómo se expresan y escriben los especialistas.

En la actualidad, sería impensable traducir sin un acceso a Internet rápido e ininterrumpido. De hecho, muchos nos aseguramos de tener más de un proveedor de servicios de Internet como parte de nuestro plan para contingencias. Lo que muchos de nosotros nunca previmos es que las mil doscientas microdecisiones que solemos tomar diariamente en nuestras diez horas diarias de conexión, durante cinco, seis o siete días a la semana, terminarían cambiando la manera en que funciona nuestro cerebro, nuestra habilidad para recordar rápidamente datos básicos y nuestra capacidad para concentrarnos en lecturas relativamente cortas.

Efectos negativos de la facilidad de acceso a la información

Desde tiempos inmemoriales, el ser humano siempre ha confiado no solo en la información almacenada en su propio cerebro, sino también en los datos específicos de cuya preservación son supuestos responsables otros miembros de su grupo social. En el hogar, por ejemplo, puede ser la madre la que habitualmente recuerde las fechas de cumpleaños de toda la familia y el padre el que sepa qué club de fútbol quedó en tercer lugar en el campeonato mundial hace diez años.

Esta distribución de la memoria evita la duplicación innecesaria de esfuerzos y sirve para ampliar la memoria colectiva del grupo. Al desligarnos de responsabilidad por cierto tipo de información, liberamos recursos cognitivos que, de otra manera, hubiéramos tenido que utilizar para recordar esa información, y los usamos para incrementar la profundidad de nuestros conocimientos en las áreas de las que nos consideramos a cargo.

Ya Sócrates se quejaba de que los libros eran enemigos de la memoria, dado que los individuos, en lugar de recordar las cosas por sí mismos, habían comenzado a depender de la palabra escrita. Actualmente, a todos los fines prácticos, ha dejado de ser eficiente usar el cerebro para almacenar información. Debemos reconocer que el uso casi permanente de Internet tiene efectos formidables en nuestra vida. Hay quienes comparan Internet con un «cerebro fuera de borda» o un disco rígido externo, con una capacidad de memoria muy superior a la que tiene —o necesita— un cerebro humano, y preocupa a los investigadores que sea tan adictivo como el alcohol o el tabaco, alentando el mismo tipo de comportamientos compulsivos.

La facilidad para acceder a la información, una de las ventajas fundamentales del uso de Internet, está teniendo hondos efectos en nuestra capacidad para retener la información adquirida. Se han realizado estudios que indican que puede alterar los mecanismos del cerebro responsables de la memoria a largo plazo. Según Elias Aboujaoude, doctor en medicina, psiquiatra e investigador de la Universidad de Stanford, «¿Para qué preocuparnos por recordar cuando tenemos toda la información a un clic de distancia? Memorizar se ha transformado en un arte perdido».

 Hoy en día, podemos acceder instantáneamente a la totalidad de la memoria humana a través de Internet con solo realizar una búsqueda rápida. Muchos afirman que, a causa de esta inmediatez, Internet está menoscabando nuestras facultades cognitivas, socavando el impulso de guardar información en nuestros propios bancos biológicos de memoria, en lo que se ha dado en llamar el «efecto Google».

En su controversial artículo Is Google Making Us Stupid?, Nicholas Carr, escritor norteamericano, experto en las nuevas tecnologías de la comunicación, afirma: «En los últimos años, he tenido la incómoda sensación de que alguien o algo ha estado jugando con mi cerebro, reestructurando mis circuitos neuronales, reprogramando mi memoria. Hasta donde puedo decir, mi mente no está fallando, pero definitivamente está cambiando».

Dos plagas de la era de la información: la sensación de saber y el fenómeno de la punta de la lengua

Dos de los fenómenos más notables causados por el uso continuo de la tecnología para acceder a la información son la incómoda sensación de saber (convicción de que se posee cierta información a pesar de no haber podido recuperarla de la memoria en un momento determinado) y el fenómeno de la punta de la lengua (estado similar a la sensación de saber, pero en el cual la recuperación se percibe como inminente).

Los traductores hemos dejado de esforzarnos por recordar datos, para tratar de acordarnos de cómo y dónde encontrarlos. Si se nos pregunta, por ejemplo, por la traducción de una parte específica y poco conocida del cuerpo humano y no la recordamos inmediatamente, lo más probable es que nuestra reacción inicial no sea pensar en la anatomía humana en absoluto, sino tratar de ver cómo resolver nuestra duda a través de Internet. Además, hay estudios que demuestran que, una vez hallado el dato que buscamos, tendemos a memorizar no el dato en sí mismo, sino cómo y dónde lo hemos encontrado para franquear más fácilmente esa dificultad si vuelve a presentársenos más adelante.

Efectos negativos de la adaptación al exceso de información

Ya dando por sentado el hecho de que los traductores recurrimos casi automáticamente a realizar una búsqueda en Internet antes de sondear nuestra propia memoria, debemos admitir que la enormidad de la información disponible en Internet supera nuestra capacidad para asimilarla, al menos en un lapso razonable. Es así que comenzamos a utilizar, muchas veces intuitivamente, una serie de técnicas que nos permiten adaptarnos a tal exceso de datos.

Entre las más comunes se destacan:

  • la lectura exploratoria (skimming), una lectura rápida y activa, focalizada en determinar cuál es la idea general del texto; utilizamos estrategias como ubicar palabras clave y valernos de ayudas tipográficas (texto en negrita, texto resaltado, títulos, subtítulos, gráficos y sus encabezados);
  • la lectura analítica rápida (scanning), una lectura orientada a buscar los datos deseados, ignorando el resto del contenido; en este caso, lo que hacemos es «barrer» el texto con la vista, buscando nombres propios u otras palabras, números, fechas u otros datos específicos.

Ocasionalmente, también recurrimos a lo que podríamos llamar una vista previa, que nos ayuda a determinar si el material es apropiado y puede resultarnos útil. Las estrategias que utilizamos en este caso incluyen examinar el título a fin de realizar conjeturas acerca del contenido del material, determinar el nombre del autor, la fecha de publicación, etc., para sacar conclusiones acerca de si el material es pertinente, leer el prólogo o la introducción en búsqueda de información relevante, o revisar el índice para hacernos una idea general del contenido.

Estos métodos hacen que podamos acceder a una gran cantidad de información en un espacio de tiempo mucho más breve, pero se está llegando a la conclusión de que, a la larga, estos hábitos de lectura nos impiden concentrarnos largo tiempo en la lectura y nos hacen más propensos a la distracción.

Si bien esto no afecta mayormente el proceso de traducción en sí mismo, de por sí ágil y muchas veces caracterizado por intensas descargas de adrenalina, empieza a notarse, sí, cuando nos enfrentamos a la corrección o revisión de un texto, propio o ajeno. Es posible entonces que apliquemos automáticamente, casi sin darnos cuenta, estos mismos métodos de lectura, con las consecuencias que pueden inferirse rápidamente. Muchas veces nos descubrimos leyendo un texto «a vuelo de pájaro», cuando deberíamos estar haciendo una lectura detenida y cuidadosa, palabra por palabra, prestando atención a signos de puntuación y errores que podrían burlar las defensas del corrector automático. La lectura rápida puede transformarse en nuestro peor adversario cuando trabajamos como correctores o revisores.

También se está empezando a percibir que estos hábitos de lectura, que tan útiles nos resultan en nuestro trabajo, van impregnando poco a poco también nuestra vida personal. En este ámbito, podemos llegar a encontrar difícil leer noticias o artículos extensos e incluso libros, e impacientarnos cuando nos hallamos ante argumentos largos. A estas alturas, la búsqueda perentoria de información se convierte para nosotros en algo así como una obsesión. La misma tecnología que nos permite ser cada vez más ágiles también nos va llevando a tener comportamientos cada vez más rígidos.

Cómo contrarrestar, al menos en parte, el efecto Google

La buena noticia es que, si nos lo proponemos, podemos revertir, aunque sea parcialmente, estos efectos.

Las herramientas más útiles parecen ser evitar en lo posible la lectura rápida e irreflexiva, concentrándonos en realizar una lectura profunda y atenta y haciendo un esfuerzo consciente por consolidar la información. En otras palabras, evitar la distracción y alimentar la memoria a largo plazo[1], los dos aspectos más afectados por el uso constante de Internet en nuestro trabajo diario.

Tengamos en cuenta que, además de ser placentero, leer profundamente estimula el almacenamiento de información en la memoria. En su ensayo Traducción – Interacción: lecturas interactivas e interaccionales como preparación a la traducción, Jeanne Dancette habla de la utilidad de «resumir, detenerse en los obstáculos dando marcha atrás para verificar o aclarar un punto, y hacer anticipaciones o predicciones sobre el texto». Estos pueden ser buenos puntos de partida para [volver a] desarrollar nuestra capacidad lectora y, tal vez, recuperar nuestro antiguo placer por la lectura.

Hagamos un pequeño paréntesis aquí para reflexionar acerca de cómo llevar esto a la práctica traductora, tanto en que respecta a la atención en la lectura como a la consolidación de la información en la memoria a largo plazo y el uso de nuestros propios recursos internos.

  • Si bien todos sabemos de la urgencia que caracteriza la mayor parte de nuestros encargos, leer atentamente el texto y detenernos en los obstáculos que pueda presentar antes de comenzar a traducir podría ser una excelente manera de encarar cualquier trabajo. Muchos ya lo hacemos habitualmente, pero a todos nos serviría para comprender profundamente el texto antes de pretender volcarlo fielmente a la lengua de destino.
  • También sería sumamente útil perder unos minutos, o incluso solo unos segundos, tratando de recordar términos o expresiones que ya conocemos —o, si esto no es posible, hacer algún tipo de anticipación o predicción— antes de realizar una búsqueda en Internet.

El hecho de realizar el esfuerzo de memorizar sirve para reeducar el cerebro, ya que modifica nuestras sinapsis cerebrales de modo de poder aprehender ideas y habilidades nuevas no solo en el momento presente, sino también en el futuro.

Para lograr este almacenamiento de información en la memoria a largo plazo se requiere pasar por un proceso conocido como consolidación. Si la información no se consolida, se olvida. Almacenar datos y establecer conexiones entre ellos requiere un alto grado de concentración y compromiso intelectual o emocional. Si utilizamos Internet sistemáticamente como recurso inmediato para sustituir el uso de nuestra propia memoria, sin atravesar el proceso interno de consolidación, no tardaremos en ver los resultados en nuestra memoria a largo plazo.

Por último, es interesante recordar que, dada la manera en que funciona el cerebro, la generación de recuerdos duraderos es un proceso que requiere del transcurso de varias horas y ocurre fundamentalmente durante el descanso. Es por ello que descansar apropiadamente también es esencial para no olvidar lo aprendido.

Conclusión

Cuanto más usamos Internet, impulsados velozmente de una página a otra por motores de búsqueda e hipervínculos, más entrenamos al cerebro para la distracción, para el procesamiento rápido y eficiente de la información, pero sin una atención sostenida. Tratemos de actuar rápidamente para evitar que esto nos afecte permanentemente y recordemos, por último, que para el cerebro humano —que no para las computadoras— el cielo es el límite.

 

Nota al pie

[1] Podemos hablar de tres tipos de memoria: la memoria sensorial, que puede durar unos segundos y se hace evidente, p. ej., al «recuperar» de la memoria algo que acabamos de escuchar, tras la apariencia de no haberlo comprendido; la memoria a corto plazo, que puede durar unos minutos e incluso horas, y la memoria a largo plazo, que puede durar años.

 

Este artículo también puede leerse en inglés:

Keep yourself from losing your memory to the Internet
Unplug. Slow down. Search your brain.

 

Agradecimiento:

Imagen publicada con permiso del autor, el fotógrafo Salvatore Dore: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jmind2_0. Todos los derechos reservados.

 

Referencias bibliográficas

American Psychological Association, APA, 2010. APA. Diccionario conciso de psicología. 1st ed. Colombia: Editorial El Manual Moderno.

Carles Soriano Mas, 2007. Fundamentos de Neurociencia/ Fundamentals of Neuroscience (Manuales/ Psicologia) (Spanish Edition). Edition. EDIUOC.

Greenblatt, A., 2010. Impact of the Internet on Thinking: Is the Web Changing the Way We Think? CQ Researcher, [Online], Volume 30, Number 33, 773-796. Available at: http://www.sagepub.com/ritzerintro/study/materials/cqresearcher/77708_interthink.pdf [Accessed 18 May 2015].

Lecto-comprensión de la lengua inglesa. 2012. Textos en inglés y en español: elementos en común. [ONLINE] Available at: http://monterofabiana.blogspot.com.ar/2012/10/teoria-y-actividades.html?view=magazine. [Accessed 18 May 15].

Nicholas Carr. 2008. Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/. [Accessed 17 May 15].

Nicholas Carr, 2011. Superficiales (The Shallows) (Spanish Edition). Edition. Taurus.

Rodríguez, E. (2003). La lectura. Cali (Valle, Colombia): Programa Editorial Universidad del Valle.

Wegner, Daniel M. et al, 2013. The Internet Has Become the External Hard Drive for Our Memories. Scientific American, [Online], Volume 309, Issue 6 , N/A. Available at: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-internet-has-become-the-external-hard-drive-for-our-memories/?page=1 [Accessed 18 May 2015].

A 24-Hour Guide to Planning Your Day in Sync with Your Body’s Internal Clock

Have you ever heard about such thing as the suprachiasmatic nucleus? The SCN, the human body’s master clock, lies deep inside the hypothalamus, behind the eyeballs, and controls circadian rhythms. In lay terms, the SCN instructs the pineal gland to increase the production of melatonin (a hormone that regulates the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle by promoting sleepiness and reducing motor activity) when daylight fades, and to decrease it when the SCN receives daylight information from the optic nerves. This process regulates many different body functions over a 24-hour cycle.

The guide below can help you plan your day following your circadian rhythm:

  • In natural conditions, your body temperature begins to rise just before you wake up, and continues to rise until noon. The sharpest increase in your blood pressure occurs in the morning, on awakening. With daybreak, melatonin secretion is inhibited. All this prepares you to start your day off!
  • Working memory (the system by which data input is brought into the brain, interpreted, and sorted), alertness, and concentration improve gradually during the first morning hours.
  • Mid-morning is usually the time when your concentration, alertness, and working memory are at their best. Research has shown that 8 to 11 a.m. are the best hours to tackle the day’s toughest intellectual projects, with mental alertness peaking at about 10 to 11 a.m.

Tip: Use this period of time to take care of high-order problem solving and other intellectually challenging work, leaving relatively easier tasks for later.

  • 11 a.m. to noon: Focus and concentration normally begin to decrease, but alertness remains high.

Tip: This would be a great time for a business meeting. With good part of the most challenging work for the day already done, you are still in a good position to make complex decisions and solve tricky problems.

  • Verbal reasoning skills hit their highs at noon.

Tip: This would be the best time for an argument. Do you still have to make that phone call to claim a long-outstanding payment? Go for it at midday!

  • From noon to about 2 p.m., cheerfulness is usually at its best, just right for business socializing.

Tip: If you wondered whether it would be better to discuss that collaboration agreement over a working breakfast or a business lunch, you now have the answer.

  • From about 2 to 3 p.m., your metabolism slows down and your sleepiness increases, which makes this the ideal time for a short nap.

Tip: Taking a 20-minute ‘power nap’ at this time of the day can improve your alertness and motor skills.

  • Long-term memory peaks at about 3 p.m.

Tip: This would be an excellent time to go over the glossary and reference material for an upcoming translation project or interpretation assignment.

  • From 4 to 6 p.m., alertness gets a new boost.

Tip: You can plan to finish your important work for the day at this time. Alternatively or additionally, you can answer non-rush e-mails, do your billing, and schedule your next day.

  • The period from about 3 to 7 p.m. is usually the best time for physical performance.
  • Blood circulation, hand-eye coordination, reaction times, and muscle strength hit their highest point in this period.

Tip: Plan to play your favorite sport, have your workout session, or just go for a brisk walk at this time of the day, and you will get much better results. Keep in mind that:

  • Fastest reaction time occurs at about 4 p.m.
  • Greatest cardiovascular efficiency and muscle strength, at about 5 p.m.
  • Joints and muscles are warmer and more flexible (reducing the risk of injury) in the late hours of the afternoon.
  • Your blood pressure reaches its high at about 6:30 p.m.
  • Your highest body temperature occurs at about 7:00 p.m.

Very important tip: Evenings are the ideal time for a glass of wine, as your liver is better able to metabolize alcohol at that time.

  • Melatonin secretion begins with sunset, in response to fading light.
  • You may be surprised to hear that, for most mortals, creativity peaks at about 9 to 10 p.m. When you start to get low on energy just before bedtime, your frontal cortex (part of the brain responsible for things such as attention, planning, and working memory) gets less involved in processing what is going on around you. Instead of concerning yourself with your current projects (that tight deadline that is driving you crazy, a challenging interpreting assignment scheduled for the next day), your brain is able to wander more freely, and think in non-linear ways.

Tip: Problems requiring open-ended thinking are best dealt with at this time.

  • Deepest sleep occurs at about 2:00 a.m.
  • Lowest body temperature, at about 4:30 a.m.

All this may vary, of course, based on your own chronotype and energy cycle (i.e., whether you are a morning or evening person (a “lark” or an “owl”), but most of us are right about the middle.

At this point, I know what you may be thinking— We do not always get to choose what time we do things. But having this knowledge can help you tune your schedule to the ticking of your internal clock as much as you can. I do hope you can give it a try and would love to hear your findings.

A 24_Hour Guide_graphic

References:

Harriet Griffey: The Art of Concentration: Enhance focus, reduce stress and achieve more. Pan Macmillan, 2010.

Melatonin: A Closer Look, The American Heritage® Science Dictionary, Houghton Mifflin Company.

Sue Shellenbarger (for The Wall Street Journal, Work and Family Section): The Peak Time for Everything: Pack More in a Day By Matching Tasks To the Body’s Energy. Updated 09/26/2012, Accessed: 09/18/2014. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10000872396390444180004578018294057070544

Josie Padro (for alive Interactive): Your Body Clock. February-March 2014. Accessed 09/18/2014. http://interactive.alive.com/february-march-2014/your-body-clock/#

Stephanie Dutchen (for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of General Medical Sciences): A Light on Life’s Rhythms. Accessed 09/18/2014. http://publications.nigms.nih.gov/findings/sept11/lightliferhythms.asp

Bob Condor (for The Chicago Tribune): The Body Clock. Published 10/31/1994, Accessed 10/02/2014. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1994-10-31/features/9410310028_1_body-clock-circadian-chronobiology

Kayte Nunn (for The Sydney Morning Herald): Reset your body clock. Published 06/02/2012, Accessed 10/02/2014. http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/diet-and-fitness/reset-your-body-clock-20120206-1r0h6.html#ixzz3Ez0sM1qw

Tanner Christensen (for Creative Something): Why You’re More Creative At Night And How To Reproduce The Effect. Posted 09/07/2013, Accessed 10/02/2014. http://creativesomething.net/post/54997033332/why-youre-more-creative-at-night-and-how-to-reproduce

Belle Beth Cooper (for Buffer): Why Most Olympic Records are Broken In The Afternoon: Your Body’s Best Time For Everything. Posted 07/18/2013, Accessed 10/03/2014. http://blog.bufferapp.com/your-bodys-best-time-for-everything-how-to-eat-sleep-and-work-more-efficiently

 

 

This article was originally posted on Alberoni Translations’ blog, Carol’s Adventures in Translation, on October 14, 2014:

Guest post: How to understand your internal body clock

The Newbie Translator’s Corner: Healthy Relationships with Translation Agencies and Project Managers

 

December’s always been a crazy month for me. Work pours in ahead of the Holiday Season, the house and the pool get more crowded and noisy than usual with my two teenage boys out of school, not to mention preparations for Christmas’ Eve, which we usually spend at home with family and friends.

Every year during this busy season, no matter how swamped I may be, I take some time to greet my translation agency project managers, and thank them for another year of close collaboration and good work together.

After all the complaining about translation agencies and project managers we can read about on the social networks these days, some people may find it odd that I’m talking about closely collaborating, doing a great job together, and giving heartfelt thanks.

I think the secret lies in becoming consciously aware that it’s you who chooses who you work with, what agencies you work for, and even which individuals inside those organizations you accept work from. Very much the same as in your personal life, there’s no point in sweating over relationships that’ll lead you nowhere. As freelancers, we’re perhaps the only ones in the labor market empowered to do so.

So, embrace the idea that, as a service provider and an entrepreneur, you choose who you provide your valuable services to. But (big BUT here), once you’ve done so, take precious care of those client-provider relationships you’ve established, and nurture them day in, day out.

The checklist below will help you test your existing/potential relationships with translation agencies/project managers. This is only a starting point— individual translators may have their own criteria to add in order to customize the checklist as needed.

December has always been

A Freelance Translator’s New Year Resolutions

light-person-woman-fire

Getting started

I have been planning on beginning to blog on translation and freelancing topics for a long time now. I have probably already told you about it privately. Or publicly. Many times. So here we are! And this is, I guess, a good way to get started.

On the brink of 2016, I would like to share with you the list of things I have tried to accomplish for a couple of years now, and I have actually made good progress! So do not get discouraged if you, like me, have not been able to keep all the hopeful resolutions you made in past years. Make new ones. Make better ones. And try to keep them for good.

A Freelance Translator’s New Year’s Resolutions

1. I will try and invest in my knowledge. I will get training in areas within or without my field of expertise that I feel will help my business or my degree of comfort with the type of projects I want to be working on.

2. I will try and differentiate myself from the rest, offering one or more types of services that go beyond the traditional translation/proofreading scheme. For that, I will need to think outside the box.

3. I will try and set a price for my services that is consistent with the value my clients are getting in return for their money, a price below which I would rather do something else for a living.

4. I will try and define my target market as accurately as possible. If I am being asked to lower my rates on every single job, I may be targeting the wrong clients.

5. Within reason, I will try and set my own standards as to how much work I can consistently translate/back-translate/proof/quality manage per hour/day. 

6. I will try and learn to say “No”. “No” to lowering my rates. “No” to accepting projects or deadlines I am not comfortable with. “No” to working with people who do not respect me or my work.

7. I will try and eat right— I will try and say “No” to eating in front of the computer, “No” to grabbing a quick bite of anything handy while hurrying to get a rush job done, “No” to drinking excessive amounts of coffee to keep me going through the night.

8. I will try and get enough rest on a regular basis. Because of a heavy family/work burden, I know I am unable to sleep 8 hours non-stop, so I will try and take a couple of short naps sometime over the day.

9. I will try and take a weekend off every now and then, and a decent, unplugged vacation once a year. I will try and say “No” to vacationing with a notebook, cables, extra batteries, a diary book, dictionaries, terminology lists, or the like.

10. I will try to keep, and build on, the above resolutions. And I am serious about it.

What about you?

Have you made any resolutions of your own for the coming year? Are they very different from mine?