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Ionic Column      in exile

by David Parry

Englishman David Parry lived, worked and played in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. He was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990. The Ionic Column has been going since early 1992. It even won a prize and an honorable mention back in 1992. Currently based in Düsseldorf and working as a translator, David Parry returns to Japan electronically via the Internet.

This Ionic may be too late for the August edition, in which I case I apologize for the yawning gap between the two trademark pillars towards the back of the AJ. Blame it on an extended holiday in Poland and a sweltering summer that stultifies the thought processes.

In fact, it has been more of a working holiday, since I could not take off three whole weeks without doing a stroke of work, and a number of translation jobs whiled away the hours. The various problems involved in setting up and working were instructive for all who wish to telecommute or work away from home or the office in general.

Washing my data
Prior to my departure, I spent a great deal of time setting up a PC to bring to Poland and leave there so that I could use it on future occasions. Cost-wise, it was not all that expensive. To quote from something I saw in print somewhere, PCs are commodities like washing machines and are priced about the same. The expensive and bulky part is still the monitor. Not having sufficiently deep pockets to spring for a flat screen monitor, even a smaller TFT, I managed to find a second-hand and somewhat time-worn 15" CTX monitor, which is displaying my deathless prose right now as I type it. I really miss my magnificent Hitachi 19" monitor with ample screen real estate, and especially for jobs involving either Trados (because of the windowing) or FrameMaker, which has very generic screen sizing and an extremely involved windowing function. One of these years I plan to get a huge flat screen monitor, and one that swivels to allow the text to be shown in portrait mode to match a sheet of A4 paper held upright.

The time capsule
There was the usual scurrying around to find the program CDs and the serial numbers. These days I have almost as many CDs as diskettes, given that my large collection of 5.25" floppies has been relegated to the archives as a sort of time capsule and the "active" diskettes that I keep at hand are mostly either for utility programs and drivers or to back up downloaded programs from the Internet. I make copies of all my master CDs, the same as I did with diskettes, and I label them. And I include the serial number on the disk labels and jacket inserts, which is a tremendous boon when installing a program. I keep a file of passwords and serial numbers, and a book with the same, which often has the sticky labels included with the program, but in one or two cases I have a serial number, and no idea which program it belonged to.

The label saga
CD labeling is almost a story of its own. First of all I bought a CD labeling kit from HP. This was just fine, but I was unable to find any replacement labels after I had used the initial stock, since the labeling device was changed and the labels also changed slightly. The shops stock a number of such devices, but it was clear that I would have to find one for which I cold be sure of finding labels in future. In the end I chose a local brand, Zweckform, since they are readily available.

Bubbles and wrinkles
Zweckform provides a simple but usable program to print all the labels in its range, and also a simple disk to fit in the middle of the CD to allow labels to be perfectly centered. The HP was quite a bit easier to use, since you only have to place the label on the lower section, put the CD in the upper section, and press the handle to bring about a happy union of the two. The process is foolproof, whereas the Zweckform approach requires a good deal of finesse to ensure that the label is applied flat and without bubbles or wrinkles. About one in ten does not lie flat on the first try. Sometimes the label can still be pulled off very carefully, if it has not stuck down fully over too large an area, but in one or two cases the label tore and I had to remake the CD.

In general, you cannot remove labels once they have been applied to CDs, as the adhesive will tear off the coating on the top of the CD and this will make the CD difficult or impossible to read. I am yet to find an effective paper solvent, and my guess is that one would damage the CD anyway. So you end up with a coaster if you mess it up. At least CD blanks are cheap, but I find that adding a label and a jacket cover roughly doubles the overall cost of copying.

A rainbow collection
The Zweckform disk labels are available in a number of different colors so that you can apply your own color-coding scheme. The copies of my music CDs have a rainbow-like spectrum of colors to match the type of music, while data CDs usually get a plain white label. Since many people print these labels with an inkjet printer, I assume that white labels outsell the colored ones by a large margin, and it is not always easy to find a particular color again. After I got my inkjet printer, I started printing the labels with colored text and blocks of color - the program is very unsophisticated and has very simple graphic functions; I can only produce rectangular, circular or elliptical blocks, the color range is very limited, and it is not possible to vary the density within a block to go from light to dark, for example. The only option would be to set up a graphics program such as Corel Draw, in which case you have to experiment to get the placing just right. The same applies to address labels, of course - and that is a story in itself.

A standalone label printer
Some years ago I really wanted one of those standalone label printers. It was OK to run a sheet of labels through my laser printer if I had a large number of addresses at the same time, but that was not the solution for just one or two labels. Envelope printing does not work all that well in laser printers, since they can easily get skewed when the printer snatches them into its maw, and I don't like the idea of running an object of irregular thickness through the printer rollers and over the very expensive drum. And, unless you do that kind of thing regularly, can you remember which way up and which way round you should feed the envelope? And you need labels for packets and parcels.

There were not all that many of these dedicated label printers on the market, and I suspect that they are mostly used in industrial applications, such as in warehouses. There were two models that I looked at, but the price of around US$300 put me off when I considered how many envelopes I had to print, plus the cost of the labels themselves. In short, I never bothered to buy one, and over the years the amount of snail-mail that I send out has dropped dramatically. So each Christmas I make up a batch of labels for my Christmas cards, and from time to time I print a sheet or two of labels with my return address.

One little wrinkle on snail-mail is that it is now illegal in Germany to do mail-shots by fax or e-mail. So promotional letters and the like have to be sent the old-fashioned way. I had a relative lull in work in June, and spent some time hunting down addresses of translation agencies from my old e-mail. I keep the mail sent to the various online translation forums that I subscribe to, and one of those is the German version of Payment Practices (Zahlungspraxis, which was known as Zahlungsmoral until about two months ago). Needless to add, I chose only addresses from the latter if the company got a good rating! One advantage of this, as opposed to skimming addresses from a telephone directory, is that the address is "live" because somebody posted from it, and the details are accurate and up to date.

A burning issue
And now back to the problems of travelling. The PC was shipped off to Poland sans hard disk, which I brought with me to ensure that it was treated gently in transit. The PC was already set up for a removable tray, so it was the work of a moment to put the disk in. The only problem I have had is that the boot-up hung sometimes at the point when the Adaptec SCSI card is recognized, for whatever reason. The Adaptec is there because I put my old Ricoh 6x CD burner in that PC, and the main PC in Germany has a 24x Sony burner. There were big problems initially getting the CD burner to work. The Ricoh drive came with WinOnCD from CeQuadrat, which is now Roxio, and at first the drive was not recognized. The Roxio Website stated that I needed an upgrade for Windows 2000, but refused to let me download the files I needed. A friend downloaded the files for me, and one of them turned out to be a firmware update for the Ricoh. Once that was installed, WinOnCD dutifully ran.

The Monty Python laptop
In Germany I had installed an Acer modem into the PC, but was surprised to find that it would not work in Poland. Thus I had to fall back on a borrowed laptop for e-mail, this having the PCMCIA faxmodem + NIC from 3Com that I had bought from the USA a year or two ago. Using Polish Windows and Outlook Express was an experience in itself, using the German keyboard on the laptop to type text added another layer of difficulty of almost Pythonesque proportions, since the Poles normally use the English keyboard layout - the only keyboards you can buy in Poland are English ones. I am not sure how people normally manage with the special Polish characters, since it is immensely tedious using Character Map or an equivalent to pick out special characters one by one. I have to do that for German, and to make it worse, I cannot just type in the four-digit code from the keypad once Trados has been installed, since it changes something in the keyboard mapping to run its many macros. So, for future trips I either have to beg, borrow, steal or buy a modem guaranteed to talk to Polish telephones, or else see whether ADSL can be installed. The latter is primarily a question of price.

Another problem was, once again, the tiresome reluctance of the laptop to read floppies. The CD drive is also very pernickety, especially with copied CDs, and I do not take original masters on my travels. At least the desktop PC behaves more or less normally.

Dead trees are better than polycarbonate?
The last and biggest problem I had was the dictionaries on CD-ROM. Of the ones I brought, one simply refused to install, another installed but would not run, a third one ran OK, and a fourth installed only a stub, not apparently having an option to put the lot onto a hard disk. But all four refused to install under \Program Files, insisting on short directory names. This showed one of the big problems of CDs, namely, that while the data is always the same, the control program to read it is at the mercy of changes in the operating system, or in the case of Windows, the perennial versionitis. Windows 2000 seems to be more of a problem for compatibility, some programs treating it as NT, others simply being puzzled and giving up in disgust. Windows XP is supposed to be better at running virtually all older programs, but there is still that registration issue.

The lost dream
Since I have never seen an option from any publisher to upgrade a dictionary, this means that you have to buy a new one if the old one is not happy with your new operating system. And while there are a lot more dictionaries available now on CD-ROM, as I found during my last trip to London and the trip to the Mecca for translators in search of dictionaries, Grant and Cutler, I was dismayed to see that they usually cost more than the paper edition. Books wear out, but they do not become obsolete because of changes in the operating system. Also, I also find that the interfaces and the linkages to WinWord (no other word processor is considered nowadays) vary greatly, and this is an impediment to working efficiently when using several such dictionaries. While I formerly had visions of tossing a few CDs onto a case and swinging a laptop over my shoulder on my way out the door for travels to distant and exotic lands, where I would plug in the laptop to start surfing and translating within minutes of my arrival, I now think in terms of a box of books and CDs, plus a regular keyboard and mouse to plug into the laptop. And I prefer an ordinary PC to the laptop if there is any choice at all.

But CDs have their place. I collected all the data and miscellaneous programs that I would need, burnt a CD, and saved myself the space that would otherwise be taken by a box of floppies. And of those I brought along as data transfer disks, one or two of them are suffering from some kind of terminal sickness. By contrast, I have not as yet had a CD become unreadable.

And a final problem was the lack of a fax. That is still one case where you either need a dedicated line to a faxmodem or to a regular fax machine. When I have to share an ordinary phone line, that is simply not an option, so I had to decline all translation jobs that would be faxed. Sometimes there is no progress at all.

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© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

September , 2002

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor

Tokyo PC Users Group, Post Office Box 103, Shibuya-Ku, Tokyo 150-8691, JAPAN