Translation challenges

It’s that time again.  I’m in the middle of a deployment tonight – this time it’s not a new software release, but the replacement of a server that runs a portion of the software platform my company is responsible for.  It’s a pretty complicated process, made more so by the fact that The Chinese Contingent is conversing in Chinese in the Skype chat I have going with them.  To keep up, I’m constantly copying and pasting their messages into Google Translator.

Rewind to lunchtime yesterday, at the office.  I ate with Long Back Guy, and we discussed work stuff – no funny stories from him this time.  As I was leaving the lunch room, I said, “I hope things go OK tomorrow,” referring to this server replacement.  He just laughed at me, heartily, as though to say there was no way this would go smoothly today.  Of course, he was right.  We’re having problems as we speak.  Problems I can do little about, except use Google Translator to have some sense of what they are.  The step we’re at right now involves copying data – normally, there is a centralized process we can call that copies all the data we need and we just have to sit and wait around for it to finish.  It takes an hour and a half or so.  This centralized process isn’t working, though, so the guys are copying data for each individual application that runs on the platform.  When the point person handling this was asked how long it would take, he replied with this (Note:  this part was typed in English because the person asking the question asked in English):

there are 39 applications need to do copy

if we figer 5 min for each app, then got 200 min almost

i will update my evaluate, when first app done

So, my task at the moment is to wait for his evaluate.  Since I am stuck translating tonight, I will share the love and give you a different sort of translation challenge to chew on.  Earlier this evening, I got an email about the server replacement (technically called a cutover), and my other half was closer to my computer than I was – I asked her to read the email to me.

There is a  trust from beaver to coyote, I  have confirmed with Mike and we think it should be configured the same way for mouse (from mouse to coyote).  Please ask Frank to do it as well.  We need to make sure that on mouse the following command can be executed without inputting a password:

oracle@mouse:/$ssh oracle@coyote

[Note:  Person and animal names changed to protect the innocent.]  Now, I didn’t give my other half any background before reading this email, and she only got through the first sentence before she looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Is this real?  Is it a joke?”  I said, “No.  Keep reading.”  When she got to the final line, she read $ssh as “Shhhhhhh!”  This was highly amusing to me, though it may not be to you unless you are also a computer nerd.  It is common practice for development shops to give their servers names, and they often pick fairly random classes of terms to use.  In this case, animals.  Our client names their software releases after cars, and their servers after animals – most of the time.

I got this message in a recent email about an unrelated project:

I dropped off the gzipped tarball on nap-happy

I love that sentence, don’t you?  If you are really interested in knowing what it means, let me know, but it’s not actually very exciting at all, and I expect most of you would fall asleep if I spelled it out.  I will say, though, that ‘nap-happy’ refers to a server, so there must be some servers our client has that are named according to emotions – or perhaps the seven dwarves – I can’t really be sure.

Gopher-man’s vacation adventures

So, Gopher-Man just got back from vacation, and I never could have predicted what stories he’d come back with.  I generally try to avoid conversations with Gopher-Man, because he is so incredibly long-winded it’s painful to have to hear him out.  He pulled me aside yesterday, though, to express his concern that he is not the best resource to be assigned to do some work that he’s been asked to do.  A typical escape attempt on his part, but this one a bit more subtle than normal.  I listened and listened and listened, and then suggested that if he really thought he wasn’t the right guy for the work he was assigned to do, he should talk to his boss, which is not me.  I tried to give him this advice in the most compassionate way possible, considering I could’ve spit out the sentence after two of his, but had to listen to fifteen minutes of his introducing the concept to me instead.  When I finally had the opportunity to put in my two cents, he nodded his head seriously, and told me that he, too, realized, this was what he needed to do.  But he was so concerned about giving the wrong impression to his boss, he was afraid to have that conversation.  In an effort to motivate him, and make it not my problem, I offered to talk to his boss for him, knowing he would turn me down.

I then made a horrible mistake.  In an effort to make some polite small-talk after our heart-to-heart, which was clearly quite stressful for him, I asked about his injured finger.  His ring finger on his left hand was all wrapped up.  When I looked closely, I could see the stiff outline of a finger splint under the wrapping.  It wasn’t wrapped in just anything, though.  It was wrapped in what I am pretty sure was one of those awful plastic grocery bags.  The wrapping was pretty puffy and wrinkled, as though he’d circumnavigated his digit with plastic multiple times, then wound a rubber band around and around the base of his finger, criss-crossing it repeatedly to make it tight enough.  I couldn’t for the life of my understand the need for the plastic grocery bag on his hand – I had to find out more.

Turns out while Gopher-Man was on vacation, he slammed his finger in between two doors, breaking it and beginning a long-lasting blood-gushing ordeal, in which he ended up in a hospital in Thailand and got stitches.  What I just wrote in one sentence, though, took another ten minutes for him to explain.  He can’t leave the finger alone – he’s constantly squeezing it with his good hand, running his fingers up and down and over the curvy part of the metal splint, even trying to flex his broken finger despite the stiff metal holding it straight.  He’s like a six-year old that has to constantly peek under his band-aid.  I never did ask outright if he’d wrapped it in a garbage bag.  I don’t have guts enough to do that, but I swear, the Safeway logo was tucked away in there somewhere.

You may have noticed that Gopher-Man went to a hospital in Thailand.  I, too, was intrigued by this part of the story.  I’ve been to Thailand.  It’s a beautiful country, and I thought perhaps we could talk about something that maybe wouldn’t drive me so absolutely crazy as everything else I have to discuss with him.  So I asked him about it.  I asked if he’d been visiting friends, or just travelling alone, and I almost fell over when he told me he went there to “get engaged.”  I’m not sure if I’ve made clear that Gopher-Man is not a young man.  I’d put him in his fifties somewhere.  He is mostly bald, with just a few hairs on the top of his head that look really soft and wispy.  The only conclusion I could come to was that he ordered a bride from Thailand.  I am not sure if I am right, but so far, that is where the story goes in my head.  Next week, I will brave the conversation current in an effort to find out the gory details of his engagement, and don’t worry — I will share them with you.  I’m sure you can barely wait!

Long Back Guy’s Thanksgiving Story

One day last week, I wandered into the kitchen for my 8th cup of coffee around lunch time, and found Long Back Guy there.  I mentioned I was going back to Wisconsin soon, and he shivered – violently, actually.  “I am not so good with the cold,” he said, and proceeded to tell me a story of Thanksgiving.

“Long back, before I was married, on Thanksgiving holiday, me and some other Indian guys decide to go camping.  Thanksgiving is nothing to us – we’re from India – it’s US holiday, but we get four day weekend, anyway.  Camping seems like fun adventure!  So, five of us, we choose to go to Grand Canyon.  No idea that it would be cold.  I mean REALLY cold.  Twelve degree!  Do you know how cold that is for Indian person?!”  I smiled at the thought of it, excited to see where this story would go.

“Thing is, no one had any equipment.  We didn’t know to get equipment.  We had cheap, flimsy tent and nothing else.  I was only one that brought warm sleeping bag.  The rest had cheap, flimsy sleeping bag, too!  It was so cold we could not get food to cook on fire.  The heat couldn’t reach from the coals to the chicken.  The cold took it away first!”

Now, I am laughing.  I’ve worked with plenty of Indian guys, and I know how they tend to hang out in groups while they are single, and they really want to try all these American things, but they do them only with each other – so they have no idea what they’re getting themselves into.  They are resourceful, though, as Long Back Guy’s story illustrates well.

“We ate by pouring Bacardi on chicken and touching coals so it would flame up.  Over and over and this works to cook the chicken.”

Now, I’m hysterical.  I am picturing these guys hunched over a tiny little baby fire that they can’t really get burning, dumping all their alcohol onto a few kabobs, turning them to charcoal in an attempt to get something edible out of it.  They should have just drank the damn liquor – it would have kept them warmer!

“Eventually, we go to bed.  It is so cold in the night, it is painful, and remember, I have good sleeping bag, but still it is so painful!  I wake up in the middle of the night, maybe 3 am, and see one of my friends.  He is sitting in the corner of the tent, legs crossed, hugging himself and rocking forward and back.  I hear him mumbling out loud, saying something over and over.  “What is wrong, man?” I ask.  “I am going to die,” he says.  “I am going to die in this cold, and I am praying to all the Gods to keep me from dying!””

Needless to say, no one died from the cold that night, but they certainly have a funny story to tell about their bachelor days when they were still new to America.

Long Back Guy and his Adjustment to American Life

Long Back Guy is someone that I really enjoy working with.  He is smart, excitable (in a good way that makes me smile), and he happens to be really, really funny.  He is from India, and has been in the US for 6 or 8 years, I think.  When we were out at our holiday lunch last week, he shared the story of his first experiences here.  At the table was Long Back Guy, myself, QA Guy (who probably needs another name, but I haven’t written about him yet, so I haven’t thought of one yet), and CEO.

Long Back Guy was pretty fresh out of college when he got the opportunity to come to the US, and like any smart young man anticipating a complete change in culture, and wanting very much to succeed upon his arrival in the US, he spent the month prior to his arrival “studying Dallas,” the place he was headed to.  He says he studied it and studied it, like he would have studied any subject he was assigned in school.  He spent hours learning about Dallas.  I’m not sure there is that much about Dallas that could occupy me for as many hours as Long Back Guy spent on it, but I have to admit, I don’t like the place.

“When I got off from the plane, I couldn’t understand.  I was so much confused!  It didn’t look like New York,” he said,”and I thought everything in US was like New York with buildings everywhere, miles in all directions!”

“Seems like your study materials were pretty crappy,” QA guy responded as we all laughed.

Long Back Guy continued.  “Dallas is not buildings.  Dallas is very flat, no one walking anywhere, only highways, and I never saw any people at all.”  Long Back Guy’s eyes are big now, and his voice becomes more and more emphatic as  he seems to relive his initial incredulity.

“I stayed in an apartment in downtown and saw no one for the whole weekend I was there.  Maybe a couple people came in or out of the building, but it was like ghost city!”

“Wait,” I said.  “You were only there for a weekend?  I thought you were going to live there.”

“Yes, me too.  But, after all my studies, my company called me and said, now you are going to California.”

I personally am glad they sent him to California, because now I know him, and I have a feeling he’s happier here than he would be in Dallas.

My office holiday lunch

Last week, our CEO announced that the company didn’t have enough money to do a real holiday party, so instead, we would all go out to lunch together this week.  Our office manager proceeded to send an email telling us where we would be going for lunch, and asking everyone to reply only with their preference of date – Tuesday or Wednesday.  He was very precise in his instructions.  “Please reply back to me only with preferred date.”  Granted, he could have meant, “Send your reply only to me, do not reply to everyone on this email chain.”  Whatever his meaning, it didn’t matter anyway.  The average office worker doesn’t have the self-control to only do what the email says, especially when a restaurant is involved.  A minor argument ensued.

One guy (a transplant from China that now works with us in the US) was particularly disappointed at the lunch plans.  He emailed back to everyone with this:

If we really have to eat Indian buffet, I am not a big fan of it.

My little suggestion is that we should try the [ABC of India]

In 123 4th St

At least it has a better rating than [XYZ of India] in the

We also have one woman in the office that is from India.  To disgruntled guy, she immediately retorted:

Hi All,

I know, which the better place to eat Indian food as I am from India myself. Don’t go by the rating on Yelp. I have eaten at [ABC of India] can say that It’s worst I ever had.

[XYZ of India], was previously “Bombay Something or Other” food was good then, not sure how it is now. Anything other than [ABC of India] would be good choice.

It’s very clear this woman is from India.  You’d never guess anything else, so why she had to assert that she was from India escapes me.  In the end, though, we did go to the original restaurant proposed by Office Manager and endorsed by Indian Woman.

When it came time to go, though, none of us really wanted to go.  That’s the thing about holiday parties – you don’t really feel like going, but if the company didn’t plan something, everyone would be pissed off.  So, we went.  It took an inordinate amount of time to figure out how people were going to group up into cars to share rides, but we eventually got there and dove into the Indian Buffet.  The CEO decided to sit at my table, which meant our conversation was initially a little stiff.  Another guy at the table who I really enjoy working with, the Indian guy who always says “long back” when he means “a long time ago,” decided to tell us a few stories of his arrival to the U.S. from India.  Pretty soon I was in stitches.  The stories were funny on their own, but this guy is funny and his ability to laugh at himself is wonderful.  More soon…

Category obsessions

I am obsessed with organizing things.  Last week, I finally figured out that I could display my categories as nested, so I promptly went about creating new categories, regrouping everything, and applying new categories to my 100+ posts.  I loved every minute of it!  Now, when I glance at the navigation pane on the right hand side of the screen, though, I see too many categories with only one post in them – and that’s starting to bug me, too.  Neurotic, I know, but that’s not really news, is it?  See here and here if you think it is.

So, for the moment, I am going to to use my own category list as writing prompt inspiration.  We’ll see how it goes…  First on the list – Cocktails.

I am a cocktail sort of person.  I like wine – drink it at dinner sometimes, but I absolutely abhor beer.  Cardinal sin for someone that grew up near Brew City, I know, but it is what it is. One of my favorite cocktails is the mai tai.  Now, if you’ve never had a really good mai tai, you won’t know that the drink is not so much about the fruit, but about the rum – but, I’ll forgive you for that.  For now.

Interestingly, the best mai tai I ever had was at a restaurant in St. Louis, of all places.  Perhaps more significant was that I was at the restaurant for a work function with my clients at the time – a major beer brewing bunch.  We’re at this super fancy restaurant with lots of marketing bigwigs in attendance, and at each end of the table sits a big metal tub on a stool, full of some of the cheapest beer you can find in the world, among a hill of crushed ice.  I was supposed to drink it – we all were.  Even if you hate the products of your clients, when you work in marketing, you must pretend you love them anyway.  If you drool over them, that’s even better.

Lucky for me, one of the people at the client also disliked beer.  She whispered to me at one point.  “I hate beer.  But I’ve found that if I take a beer, put it in front of my plate, act like I’m drinking it now and then, that’s enough.  I can even sneak in a cocktail on the side and no one will really say much.”  With that, I quietly ordered my mai tai, and as I said – it was the best I’ve ever had, so I’m glad I took the risk.

To help me illustrate my point about just how misunderstood the mai tai is, read this post.  It will set you straight.  If you like rum, and you’ve never had a classic mai tai – try one.  You won’t be sorry you did.

Gopher-man delivers

So, last weekend, I had a huge software release pending and was waiting on gopher-man to get it ready to deploy.  Besides the fact that gopher-man works slowly, he is very pessimistic, and always acts as though there is no way he has enough time to do what he needs to do.  It’s a stressful job, but we all have stressful jobs in this industry, and he makes me want to just throw my hands up in the air and walk away.  The Thursday before the deployment, I stopped by to see how he was doing.

“Oh, it’s awful.  There are so many errors.  I’ve tried to run the build over and over and over and it’s taking forever,” he moaned.

I paused, took a deep breath.  “I’m sorry it’s such a pain.  That sounds frustrating.  Do you think you’ll be done by tomorrow?”

“Define done,” he says.

[Level of effort required to contain my frustration increasing steadily.]

“Um, done.  As in, finished.  Ready to hand off to China to deploy on Saturday.”

“Do we have a choice?”  His question is equal parts sarcasm and a misplaced glimmer of hope that I’ll tell him we might have a choice.

“No. We don’t.”

“What can I do then?  I have no choice.”

“Well, if you need some help, I’d rather know that now and see if I can’t find someone to assist instead of find out tomorrow that we can’t get this done.”

Defeated, he sulks, saying “There’s no one that can help.”

“Maybe [a senior guy who doesn’t normally do this, but can figure out just about anything] can help.  Let me see what I can do.” I try to reassure him, as I walk away biting my tongue.

I get gopher-man some help and let them work it out over the rest of that afternoon.  Friday, though, still no final product.  I do get a reassuring email from the person that normally do this work (excuse me – broken English almost slid past me) – does this work – and is away on family business to tell me that it is “all sorted, and we’ll be fine.”  He’s from New Zealand and a very reassuring type.  Sure enough, Saturday morning I wake up to the news that we’re ready to go.  Score one for gopher-man.

Not only does he finish, but that night, when I expect to work from 4pm til 8am the next morning monitoring the deployment happening in China, gopher-man’s work was so well done that we save hours, and I am actually done by 2:30 am instead.  Senior executives at the company and at our client say it is the least eventful and most on-time deployment they have ever had, even though it is also one of the largest, which is exactly as it should be.  Score one for the whole team.

Everything is riding on gopher-man

And that’s got me really, really nervous…  I have a huge release going into production tonight – in fact, lucky me – I get to work from 5pm Saturday evening to 8am on Sunday.  That’s right – no sleep for me tonight.  The thing is, tonight only happens if gopher-man gets his work done.  Which was supposed to be done yesterday.  And I was supposed to hear from him last night.  And I am still waiting…

While I am waiting, I will share a few more office updates.  I have to admit that I think I found just the right name for gopher-man.  We have a development meeting every Wednesday, and every person involved with this particular client, who happens to be our biggest client, is required to be at this meeting.  Gopher-man is one of those people.  At the start of the meeting, he was not present.  So, barefoot boss asked someone sitting near the door of the conference room to go fetch gopher-man.

“K,” he said. “Will you please go get [gopher-man].  He is going to tell you he is too busy and cannot interrupt his work, but tell him he has to come anyway.”

K leaves the room, returns thirty seconds later, waits for the next break in conversation and says, “I told [gopher-man] to come, but he says he is too busy and can’t stop his work.”

Many of us sigh and roll our eyes.  The meeting continues.  Perhaps two minutes later, gopher-man appears.

“Ah, there you are,” says barefoot boss.

Again, the discussion continues and a few minutes later, a question is raised which gopher-man should answer.  Barefoot boss turns to look at gopher-man, who has disappeared into a hole.

“Where’s [gopherman]?  Darnit – he escaped again!”

So now I know I am not the only one that thinks gopher-man is sneaky and disappears into some invisible  hole none of the rest of us can see.


I wrote this post last Saturday, then forgot to publish it…  So, the unknown ending I began with is now known – but, you’ll have to wait to hear how it turned out…

My boss is a sprinter

I’ve introduced you a little bit to my boss – the one that takes his shoes off all the time, and uses elaborate vocabulary it doesn’t seem normal people use.  It occurred to me a few days ago that I never shared the fact that he is a sprinter.  The odd thing is that he does his sprinting through the office.  Maybe he also does it outdoors or at a track somewhere, but I kind of think he limits it to the office.  For some reason, he can never remember to bring his cell phone with him, and it tends to ring just when he couldn’t be further away from it.  A conscientious guy that doesn’t want to put anyone out, he will run at lightning speeds through our office, in an attempt to pick up before a caller has to leave a message.  I wonder if he realizes how disturbing it is to hear his feet pounding across the floor as though he’s trying to escape an axe murderer.

Our office is really quite long – in fact, he might even be able to manage the 100-yard dash if he went from end to end.  The first time I heard him, I thought something had gone seriously wrong.  Why on earth would someone run like mad through the office?  I wandered out of my cubicle and looked around to make sure no one was hurt or anything, but found nothing amiss, so I went back to continue staring at my screen.  Now, when I hear his cell phone ring in his office, I know to expect the stampede coming immediately thereafter.  I don’t keep myself in very good shape, so I am probably not capable of doing the 100-yard dash in my office.  But even if I were, and even if I had the unfortunate habit of leaving my cell phone far away from my present location, I just can’t imagine running at top speed to catch it before the 4th ring.  Maybe I should try it – I could certainly use the exercise…

I really love broken English

Maybe that makes me a little weird, but it’s true.  Since I started working at this company where we have lots of employees in China, I have regular happiness handed to me on a plate – well, in email, or Skype, or in meetings, or on the phone.  I’ve pondered why I like it so much, and actually given a lot of thought as to whether this is just plain politically incorrect, but I have decided I just don’t care.  I like it, so it’s good.  A few examples I particularly love follow:


“Sorry for cost so long time since my unclever mind.”

If I tried for a week, I wouldn’t be able to come up with such a clever apology for missing the point of someone else’s e-mail (well, multiple emails over multiple days).



This is an affirmation I get of most any statement I make in Skype to one particular guy I chat with all the time.  I guess in this case, my Chinese counterpart is not using English incorrectly at all.  He is just using it in a way no one else uses it anymore, and hasn’t really in fifty-some years.  I only know this because I decided to google it, though.  I knew “Roger” was a term that meant you understood what someone had said, and it had some association with pilots in the military, so I googled “roger as an affirmative statement.”  Turns out it comes from a radio alphabet (A = Alpha, B = Bravo, C = Charlie, etc.) that was the official alphabet of the US Navy until 1954.  One day I will ask where he picked up this statement.


“need go to sleep…pain…headache”

Again, a simple Skype chat.  This time with someone who was trying to explain why he couldn’t answer my question.


On the slightly serious side of this subject, I think I like seeing and hearing these mangled statements because I like language, and warped as these things seem, they give me an opportunity to look at language differently – to consider how it is entirely possible to get your point across in ways that aren’t supposed to work.  Add to that the sort of puzzle-solving aspect of translating the translation and it ‘s a perfect fit for me.  As a kid I loved to watch Jeopardy and I solved logic puzzles for fun all the time, so I guess it’s no surprise I take so much joy in capturing these little tidbits.