Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Something from nothing gets something

Traders have always known that everything has a value. The matter is to discover it and bring the product to those who need (and willing to pay good money for) it. A recent conversation about not being to eat the “hole” in a piece of meat led me to search for ultimate uses, in all senses of the phrase, of supposed garbage.

One use of garbage is for food.  For example, donut makers took the tiny pieces of dough removed to make the defining hole of a donut, baked them and sold them as, of course, donut holes.  So, you can eat the hole, at least in some cases.  In Israel, falafel stands take and fry the thin slice of pita bread that is cut in order to open the pita, adding it as a crunchy element to the choice of condiments. In wine countries everywhere, grappa, a very strong wine made from the remaining grape skins, is produced to celebrate the harvest and processing of the grapes.  It is not suggested for weak spirits.  As many still say, you should not throw out food; there are starving people in some country.

Waste products can also be used to make our lives better in other ways. Dry cherry pits, apparently, make a very effective filing for bed warmers although it takes a lot of them and requires you to remember to not throw them out in the summer.  People weave wheat shafts to create very nice baskets (and make money from it). Coconut shells make fine bowels. Walnut shells can be turned into portable fire starters. Ash is used to make home-made soaps.  Corn cobs make excellent barbeque cleaners. Your imagination is the limit.

In a world searching to end its dependence on chemicals, organic materials provide a rich source of alternatives.  Sunflower seed shells discourage weeds.  Bird crap has always served as an ideal fertilizer and is is known as guana. Egg shells can be used to keep pipes clean while cat hair can be used to clean animals coated with oil from spills. In terms of medical options, potato peels can help treat infections while apricot pits are used in cancer treatment.

Of course, some waste products can simply be burnt as fuel.  These include coconut husks and olive pits, to name a few.  You can even run an specially adapted engine on cooking oil. The smell is a bit French fries but the car runs.

Of course, this is only a partial list.  You can find out more details by looking up the relevant items in Google or Bing. In any case, to paraphrase the known expression, garbage is as garbage sees.

Friday, February 19, 2016

On closer thought

Once a year, some (but not all) Israeli translators leave their Internet caves and mingle at the ITA conference.  While part of the pleasure is networking, the formal activity is three consecutive days of lectures on a whole plethora of topics, some immediately relevant to the person’s work and others completely outside the usual sphere of activity.  Curiously enough, I find the latter much more interesting and ultimately more satisfying. 

This year, we technical translators could learn about Donald Duck in Holland, Hebrew detective books, translating Brazilian-Jewish culture into German and the joys of Jane Austin, to name a few.  Of course, we can also hear practical advice about medical translation, French legal terms, site building, Wikipedia translation tools and the tricks of LinkedIn.  Due to fact that three different lectures were going on any time, I and the other attendees had to make cruel choices.

At first glance, the reason for my preference for the “irrelevant” is my fascination or envy of the challenges my colleagues face.  I do not have to find a parallel structure or alliteration to express the language of Jane Austin.  I don’t have to express the language register of the American detective Sam Spade when he talks with his secretary. I don’t even have to ask which kind of jacket the hero wears.  However, on second thought, I do have to choose my words, albeit different ones, carefully. I have to remember that a French “sentence” is the judgment, not the punishment, when to use the Hebrew as compared to the English name of a disease and thoroughly check my documents for spelling errors.  My range of freedom for translating a sentence may be less but my requirements are no less exacting.

In short, all translators, as communicators, are smiths.  In olden times, physical smiths may have worked with iron, gold or silver, but they all used the same tools, heat and hammer, granted of varying temperatures and size.  Like, we word smiths may treat different materials and vary in out finish, but we share the same tools, specifically words and creativity.  We all belong to the same guild.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The death of 20th century culture

On my just completed visit to my parents, I had plenty of time to peruse their rather large collection of books.  They were born in the 1920’s and have always been interested in art and history. Their choice of books reflects that background.  There are biographies and autobiographies of painters, actors, generals, statesmen and business people. Books in French were intermixed with the classic novels of 20th American writers.  My father’s World War II experience is reflected in the large mass of Battle of the Bulge books. At a glance of the eye, I could see all the major phenomena of the 20th century.

Sharing many of their interests if not all of their experience, I am interested in and had read many of those books. Thus, the titles and subjects on the shelves were familiar and far from alien.  I appreciate more than ever the rich background of knowledge my parents had conferred to me through their conversation and, of course, books. At the same time, I also experienced a strong sense of sadness: very soon, this rich corpus of knowledge will become forgotten and irrelevant. Nobody will know or care about the Spanish Civil War, General Eisenhower, Stillwell and the American Experience in China or the stories of Joseph Joffo, to name just a few.  The next generation will find them as interesting as the chronicles of the cities of ancient Greece.  I can already see this process in my engineering students in Israel, aged between 21 and 28, whose knowledge of the 20th century events that shaped their country, not to mention the whole world, is so limited.  In teaching them English, I often find myself teaching them history.  I choose not to think what their children will know about “the ancient history” of the 20th century.

On further thought and with great sadness, I realize that this process of cultural loss, even death if you will, is as natural as its physical equivalent. The people and events that shaped our world gradually and inevitably become ever more distant in people’s memory.  How many names and events of the 14th or 15th century, some 600 years ago, can even the most knowledgeable person recall?  What do know about ancient Mesopotamia or Rhodesian cultures? Their traces in the soil of human development have almost disappeared completely.  In that sense, cultural death is also sad and inevitable.  Likewise, we should strive to delay this result as much as possible, but learn to accept its inevitability. To paraphrase the call used for royal accession, the 20th century is over; long live the 21st century.