Saturday, October 19, 2013

Filming pets

Filming your pets can be a tricky business, because they won’t adapt to you: you have to adapt to them. They won’t always take direction, although dogs can be trained to follow orders and do tricks, as can some other animals. Other than that, they can be very unpredictable and can spend a lot of time running out of shot, refusing to stay put or doing nothing of any interest at all. And if you can predict what they’ll do in a given situation, the chances are the first time you point a camera at them, they’ll be too interested in the camera.

Our cats, Bonnie and Clyde, are now used to having cameras pointed at them, so most the time cameras get ignored. Even so, getting something interesting on film involves pointing cameras at them a lot. As it happens, there is one thing they enjoy doing with me that is intrinsically interesting: they like to accompany me on short walks.

Still, there’s a great deal more footage that wasn’t used in this video than was used. In a sense, an interesting pet video has to be a sort of “edited highlights”. This one, however, is partly an exception to this, because I chose shots that, put together in the right way, tell a story. To get enough footage to be able to do that meant filming almost the whole time. Shots that might look as if they follow on from each other might in fact have been taken a minute or two apart.

That aside, there is one very important rule when filming pets — and this also applies to children. Get the camera down to their level: their eye level, if you can. For cats, this means holding the camera a couple of inches off the ground: some of those tracking shots involved me walking like a gibbon with lumbago. No wonder it looks a bit rough in places.

One possible way to make this sort of filming slightly more comfortable might be to put the camera on a monopod, and then hold it upside-down. You could then walk normally with a straight back, and you’d only have to worry about keeping your subject in shot and not hitting any stones with your camera. You can then digitally flip the image at the editing stage. The disadvantage of this would be that you would not be able to reach your camera’s controls.

Still, here it is: me going for a walk with the cats.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

How mistranslations occur

Ever been faced with a horrible piece of gobbledegook instead of easy-to-follow instructions? A friend of mine was confronted with this prize offering, after using a translation app:

In convectomaten they dampen the pasta in a perforated container gastronomy. Then pivot in liquid butter.

The original was, of course, in German, a language that presents special difficulties to machine translators because of its unusual word order. It serves as a great example of the complexities of human language: it’s not really the fault of the people who wrote the app, it’s just that modern computers are number-crunching machines and actually have no capacity to think.

So let’s go through the whole thing and see if we can make sense of it.

convectomaten: This would appear to be the German word Konvektomaten, which is Konvektomat plus a grammatical ending. This is a convection oven, as used in the catering industry. These aren’t instructions for your average housewife. So the original German is either im Konvektomaten (“in the convection oven”) or in Konvektomaten (“in convection ovens”). Regardless of which it was, the more idiomatic English rendering would be “in a convection oven”.

they: This very clearly represents the German word Sie. This can have different meanings: it can mean “she”, but if the verb is used in its plural form, it can mean either “they”, or the polite form of “you”. If it’s the latter, it will always be spelled with a capital S. What the app doesn’t understand, of course, is that because this is a set of instructions, it’s more likely “you”. In German, instructions are issued in the polite form in this manner: Helfen Sie mir means “Help me”, for example.

dampen: The German word dämpfen can mean “dampen” — the close similarity of the words is obvious — but in the sense of “suppress”, not “moisten”. In cooking, this word actually means “steam”.

container gastronomy: The German for “container” is Behälter; straightforward enough. The German word Gastronomie refers to the catering business: cafés, restaurants, snack bars and so on are all in the Gastronomie business. Put the two words together, and you get Gastronomiebehälter, which is a catering container, or a food container. These are those standardized stainless steel containers used by caterers and self-service restaurants. The food is cooked in them, and then they are simply transferred to a bain marie to keep them warm, and the food served straight from them. I’m not sure why the app reversed the order of those two words: the original order would actually have made more sense.

pivot: Translate this word into German, and you get schwenken. This can mean other things besides: to rotate, to swivel, to turn, and so on. But in the context of cooking, we use the word “toss”. Incidentally, the word “they” doesn’t appear here: either the app has this time understood that we’re dealing with an instruction, or the original German uses the alternative form, a simple infinitive instead of the third person plural.

liquid: Clearly, this should be “molten” or “melted”.

So I would guess that the original German might have something like this:

Im Konvektomaten, dämpfen Sie die Pasta in einem perforierten Gastronomiebehälter. Danach in flüssiger Butter schwenken.

That may not be exactly what it said, but it must be close. This translates as:

In a convection oven, steam the pasta in a perforated catering container. Then toss in melted butter.

Much better. Not perfect (“toss in melted butter” is ambiguous), but it’s much clearer what it means.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Gained in translation

A big problem with going to the cinema or watching TV in Germany is that not only is the dubbing not as good as it should be, but the translations often leave something to be desired. This is the case even with titles: sometimes, the translation is lacklustre and unimaginative (the Star Trek TV series, for example, was called Raumschiff Enterprise — yes, quite simply the German for “Starship Enterprise”), but quite often you feel the translators just gave up and went home (The Hangover was entitled Hangover, for example).

There are some very, very rare examples where the translators actually came up with a title superior to the original. The movie The Internship, about a couple of clueless lads who land themselves an internship at Google, looks like the kind of screwball comedy I give as wide a berth as possible, but I would like to meet whoever came up with the German title and shake him or her by the hand.

The translator could have stuck with a straightforward translation: the German for “internship” is Praktikum, and as a title, that would have retained the bland, unimaginative ring of the original. Instead: