MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) – a Brief Review

I recently took two massive open online courses (MOOCs) on Coursera, “Introduction to Finance” by Prof. Kaul of the U. of Michigan, and “Global Sustainable Energy” by Prof. Porter of the U. of Florida. I took the first course to get a better overview over the financial world as a business person, and I took the second course because I’m very interested in sustainable energy and would like to move my translation specialization in this direction. I can highly recommend both courses.

“Introduction to Finance” covered a variety of topics in a whirlwind, from mortgage calculations over a brief intro to accounting to stocks and bonds. Of course, none of these topics could be covered in-depth in the short amount of time, but it was just the right amount for a business person with a retirement account and interest in purchasing a home. While the format was very “traditional” (for an online course), video lectures with online assignments, Prof. Kaul’s ability to be highly engaging in a video with a bland background is simply amazing. Prof. Kaul is one of the best lecturers I’ve ever heard. The assignments were just the right difficulty, partly tricky, and forced you to actually learn the material. Overall, I highly recommend this course.

“Global Sustainable Energy: Past, Present and Future” also covered a variety of topics, whereby 3 of the topics, residential energy, renewable energy sources, and transportation were covered more in-depth by the students themselves in peer assessments/papers, which were then graded (anonymously) by other students. The course included videos, short and to the point, quizzes, and mandatory discussions in the forums, where the topics were covered first, with the peer assessments following up in-depth. I learned a lot, particularly while researching for the projects/peer assessments, and I think Prof. Porter used the online medium very wisely through the mix of videos that were partly shot at various outdoors locations and especially the peer assessments, my own and while grading the other students’ papers. I could have done without some of the mandatory discussions, simple because more often than not people posted random statements without references or links just to get credit. Nevertheless, the rest of the course far outweighed this slight drawback. Overall, I can definitely recommend this course as well.

That said, I would like to point out a potential drawback of MOOCs. In one case, I dropped a course I was enrolled in, because the instructor seemed to have his own agenda instead of presenting a balanced viewpoint on the topic. People tried to point this out in the discussion forums, but were quickly shut down. I then dropped the course after about 2 weeks of this. That, IMHO, is one of the dangers with MOOCs in general. Since they are free (or almost free), they need to be sponsored by somebody. And if that sponsor has their own agenda, it’s very easy to pick and choose the presented data to fit an agenda instead of presenting a balanced overview. And thousands of people, who are not scientifically trained to question data that they are presented with, walk off with incomplete or worse, very wrong ideas.

With this in mind, I still recommend MOOCs, simply because the quantity of courses offered online on every conceivable topic is so large that there are bound to be some excellent courses out there.

Maria Brown and the Nigeria connection

The following (fake) message is currently making the rounds among reputable translators who are members of the American Translators Association (ATA).

I am Miss Maria Brown,I got your email from the website( that you are a translator.i need you to help me translate from (English–German) if u don’t mind.I would like to know your terms and how much it would cost for the article.i will be waiting for your reply.


Maria Brown

This is clearly a scam and/or phishing attempt. Examples of typical scams are, for example, given on the ATA website.

How can you tell it’s a scam?

  • The email was sent from a free account such as gmail, yahoo, etc.
    While this is not necessarily in itself an indication that the request is a scam/spam-email, it’s a strong indication in combination with the other signs below. I have, in fact, several good direct clients that write via gmail, but I know them from other sources, therefore I know that they are legitimate. Most of my other clients, however, write via their corporate accounts.

  • Despite the fact that Ms. Brown claims to have obtained my contact information via the ATA website, a proper salutation is missing and the email is sent to my email-address via bcc.
    As a rule, I don’t respond to general mass mailings or automatically decline, since mass mailings with quote requests to translators indicate that the client is more price- than quality-conscious. And I can’t, or rather won’t, compete with people from somewhere in the Sahara desert who barely speak the source and target languages and who charge about half a cent per word. You get what you pay for… There’s nothing wrong with obtaining quotes from several providers, but there is something very wrong with spamming dozens if not hundreds of providers with one swooping, impersonal mass-mailing. But I digress. In this case, in combination with the other indicators mentioned here, it’s clearly a spam/scam attempt.

  • The request is written in really, really bad English, despite the fact that the sender claims to have a source text in English and claims to have a name indicative of a native English speaker.
    This alone is reason enough to turn down the assignment, because even if the request is legitimate, I do not want to waste my time guessing what the source text may mean if the author is barely elementary proficient in the source language. In this case, it would be better for everybody involved to write the text in his/her native language and get the text translated from that language into the desired target language.

  • The request does not contain any contact information aside from a generic email address.
    This is in general a strong indicator that the email is a scam/phishing attempt. Everybody has an address and phone number and most people have a website these days. A name such as “Maria Brown” that is essentially un-Googleable because it’s too generic immediately raises red flags. If somebody really wants a translation, even if they’ve never bought a translation before, they give a name and address and possibly other contact information so that the provider can contact the translation buyer with the quote. A name and address can also be used to search for that buyer online and verify his/her existence. Of course, a scammer could randomly impersonate somebody else, but in this case Ms. “Maria Brown” didn’t even bother to do that.

Clear all target segments in Trados Studio 2009

Here’s how to clear all target segments in Trados Studio 2009:

  1. Select the first segment of the block that you want to clear by clicking on the number of the segment on the left-hand side as shown below.
    Selection of segments in Trados

    Selection of segments in Trados
    (The text in the segments is masked for confidentiality reasons.)

  2. Go to the last segment of the block of segments that you want to clear, keep the Shift key pressed while selecting the number of this last segment, as illustrated above. The entire block of segments should now be selected.
  3. Right click with your mouse and select “Clear Target Segment” from the context menu to clear all selected segments.
    Context menu for selection

    Context menu for selection

  4. Alternatively, you can also select “Translation > Clear Target Segment” from the main menu.
    Main menu - Translation

    Main menu – Translation

  5. As a third alternative you can use the keyboard shortcut “Alt+Del” to clear the selected target segments.

Superfluous Tags in Word Documents

Sometimes Word documents contain a lot of extra (hidden) tags, that can really hinder the use of a CAT-tool and stop your translation workflow in its tracks. Particularly PDF-documents that are converted to Word can have tags between every single word or even letter! The reason for this overabundance of tags is that Word seems to apply certain formatting settings to every single word or letter, instead of more globally to every single paragraph. To get rid of these tags without destroying the formatting of your source document, follow the procedure below. In any case, you’ll most likely have to do some reformatting of the translation no matter what, because I have yet to see a source and a target language pair with the exact same length of words.

The procedure applies to Word 2010, 2007, and 2003 — if you have a different version, or a different Word processor, there should be an equivalent procedure with equivalent keyboard shortcuts.

  1. Open the source document in Word. It is advisable to save a copy of the original in the unlikely case something goes wrong.
  2. Use CTRL+A to mark the entire text.
  3. Use CTRL+D to open the character formatting dialog box, go to the “Character Spacing” tab (or the equivalent in your Word version) as shown below.
    Font dialog box in Word

    Font dialog box in Word

  4. Set the Scale to 100%, the spacing and position to Normal, and disable Kerning.
  5. Save the file and try opening it in your favorite CAT-tool. The superfluous tags should have disappeared. If not, proceed to the next step.
  6. If you are in Word 2010 or Word 2007, save the file as a Word 97-2003 document. The step from .docx-format to .doc-format usually removes all additional tags. You may have to do some minor reformatting when you save the final translated document in the original 2010 format.
  7. If you are in Word 2003 or the file is already in Word 97-2003 format, try saving it in a newer format, and then save it again in Word 97-2003 format.

Updates on the Higgs Boson (AKA ‘God Particle’) and Dark Matter

In my previous post I linked to a talk I presented at the 2012 Annual Conference of the American Translators Association on the so-called “God Particle”, Dark Matter, and All That.
Since I unfortunately won’t be able to attend the 2013 ATA conference, I won’t be able to present an update on the particle physics frontier. Therefore, I am summarizing the latest news below, under the assumption that the reader has either read the previous post and material or is familiar with the general topic.

The LHC, the collider where the Higgs boson was discovered last year, was shut down earlier this year for repairs and upgrades and is expected to begin operations again in 2015. However, that does not mean that there are no new results. On the contrary, scientists are quite busy analyzing all the data that were collected. These analyses have meanwhile confirmed that the particle whose discovery was announced last July really has all the right properties to be the Higgs (or one of the Higgses). The discovered “Higgs-like” particle has therefore been relabeled as (one of) the Higgs boson(s) (see e.g. the CERN press release from March 14th, 2013 here). I added the plural in parentheses, because there are a host of particle physics models, which attempt to explain the origin and composition of dark matter and include more than one of the particles like the one predicted by Peter Higgs in 1964.

Another exciting and related update comes from the astrophysics front, more precisely from the aptly named Planck space telescope, which measures–among other things–the composition of the universe. The findings are summarized in the pie charts below:

Composition of the universe

Composition of the Universe before and after Planck (Source: ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

You may also have read or seen about the latest results of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) announced very recently, that claims to provide direct evidence of dark matter. To be precise, what was measured was an excess in a certain type of radiation that can (among other things) be attributed to annihilation of dark matter particles. Annihilation means roughly speaking that 2 particles combine, are converted into energy and thus cease to exist as particles. Now, what was measured by the AMS is an excess in the expected amount of radiation. This may (or may not) be due to dark matter. Unfortunately we can’t just fly out there and search for the source, be it dark matter or not. So this is another strong hint at the existence of dark matter and indeed also constrains some theoretical models, but unfortunately it does not provide a direct clue.

In summary, existing theories have been confirmed and refined by new experimental data, and no new particles have been found. This may sound disappointing, but even a null result means progress, because the absence of new particles helps constrain various models that could have explained the existence of dark matter. A lot of these models or at least a large parameter space of these models has been ruled out since the first collision at the LHC. Furthermore, the large amount of data has yet to be analyzed from all angles, as does the amount of data of the aforementioned astrophysics experiments. Who knows, maybe there are some new insights hiding in these data? Stay tuned, subscribe to this blog, and find out!

The “God Particle”, Dark Matter, Black Holes, and All That

After CERN announced on July 4th, 2012, that a new particle had been discovered, the media were filled with headlines such as: “Physicists find elusive particles seen as key to universe”, “… the holy grail of physics”, “‘God Particle’ discovered”, “Is the Higgs boson the first step to a ‘Star Trek’ transporter?”, “Higgs boson find could make light-speed travel possible, scientists say”.

God particle meme

Meme that made the rounds on Facebook after CERN announced the discovery of a Higgs-like particle

Aside from the fact, that I cringe every time the term “God Particle” is mentioned, I felt it would be useful to explain to my science translator colleagues what is really going on, why I think that the term “God Particle” is an ingenious marketing ploy gone bad, and why we’ll have to wait a bit longer until Scotty can beam us up. Therefore I presented a talk on “The ‘God Particle’, Dark Matter, Black Holes, and All That” at the 2012 Annual Conference of the American Translators Association. The talk was aimed at a general audience comprised mostly of non-scientists and featured a lot of analogies and pictures as well as cute stuffed “particles”.

Stuffed Higgs

Stuffed Higgs “particle” from The Particle Zoo

Long story short, the so-called Higgs mechanism (named after Peter Higgs) explains, why most particles have masses and are not zipping around the universe at the speed of light. This mechanism predicts a new particle beyond the ones we already knew. If this mechanism is really responsible for giving particles their mass, this particle, the Higgs boson has to exist. Many experiments have therefore searched for the particle since its prediction in 1964, and it was finally discovered at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) last July.

If you want to know why it is also known as the “God Particle” and why it was so hard to find, read my contribution to the ATA Conference Proceedings or browse through the slides of my talk. Enjoy!