Fellowship interview with Rolf Camps

The smallest unit of freedom: a Fellow

This month we’ve interviewed Rolf Camps about translating, volunteering, and awareness of Free Software in Belgium. Translations are utterly crucial for a European organisation, and it’s a lot of work that doesn’t get much visible credit, so I wanted to ask Rolf about motivations and what’s involved. This is the second in our series of Fellowship interviews – "the smallest unit of freedom".

Ciarán O’Riordan: Rolf, you’ve been volunteering for FSFE for a few years now. How much time would you say your work takes per week?

Rolf Camps: Sometimes too much, if you ask some people around here :-)

Seán Daly
Rolf Camps

Last weekend I had to learn to write Makefiles, which took 8 hours. I don’t know if that’s 8 hours of volunteer work, but it was 8 hours of time. In general, translating webpages and news to Dutch takes about 6 hours per week.

The work is easing off because most of the site is now translated to Dutch.

COR: And is this what you usually do for your day job?

Rolf Camps: Not at all. My job isn’t even computer related, I’m helping to keep the copper telephone lines in good shape.

COR: So why did you choose Free Software as cause to support with your free time?

Rolf Camps: Well, I never liked using Windows. Or Apple. I heard about "Linux" in 2000 and started to use it. Most people around me knew I was using it because I was never complaining about viruses or BSOD’s. When one day a family member asked if I knew Richard Stallman, and I had to answer no, I started reading some of his writings. That’s the day I began to use "GNU/Linux". The family member was studying law in the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Stallman was discussed as part of their course.

Looking for more information I visited fsfeurope.org, and saw the banners across the top of the pages saying that there was currently no Dutch translation and giving the URL for the translators mailing list.

I signed up and started translating the pages. It wasn’t that difficult to get involved. The site uses XML, but that’s simple. The repository uses CVS, but it wasn’t even necessary to know that at the start since I could email the translations to the mailing list and someone else would commit them to the repository. Jeroen Dekkers had already been translating some pages to Dutch and gave me some advice.

COR: Did you have experience in translation work before?

Rolf Camps: None, but it’s fairly straightforward. When I’m wondering about what sense or meaning of a word is intended, I can usually read the French or German translations to see how they translated it. I sometimes even follow their discussions on the list. Translating does get more accurate with experience though. Now that I’ve read the articles of FSFE and the transcripts of Stallman, I sometimes review my early translations to ensure that I captured the right meaning.

COR: Besides the mini FSFE translation dictionary, how are page styles and vocabulary kept consistent?

Rolf Camps: For Dutch this is easy since I do all the translations :-) There are a few words that vary. Here in Flanders, the word for "patents" is translated as "patenten", but in the Netherlands they would translate it as "octrooien". But FSFE’s Dutch translations are consistent because I do them all :-)

For languages like French, German, Italian, and Spanish, there are multiple translators and they can all discuss the issues for their languages. That would be useful for Dutch too, but we’re still looking for Dutch speakers to join the translation list.

COR: You’ve recently been doing more work on the website. Why is that?

Rolf Camps: This started because the last two blocks in the left-hand menu were always left in English. I had searched and searched for the file to translate these parts, but in the end I found that they were hard-coded and couldn’t be translated. So then I decided to fix that. This meant having to learn the fsfeurope.org build scripts, and they’re in Perl, so I had to learn some Perl too. It was a lot of work to find out I only had to change an xsl stylesheet, another technology I didn’t master.

The move to web work was also partly because, as the translation of the site gets more and more complete, it’s taking me fewer hours each week. There are about 30 pages left to be translated, but some of those are transcripts. They can take a month to do!

Automated services exist, but the quality’s terrible. It would take more time to correct them than it would to do the work from scratch.

COR: Translating isn’t something that people do for fame. What do you think motivates translators?

Rolf Camps: I wanted to do something to help Free Software, and I’m not a programmer. So you can be an advocate or a translator, and translating is closer to what I like doing. Everybody can help with his or her own talents or experiences.

COR: I see the homepage is in 25 languages, but most of the rest of the pages are in 5 or 10. So how can we get more translators involved?

Rolf Camps: The visible banner is good. That’s how I got the idea to volunteer. But one problem is that after I translate a page, the banner disappears. We’re still looking for Dutch translators, but the more work I do, the less chance we have to find new translators. There’s a mention in the left-hand menu, but maybe we can think of more ways to publicise this need.

COR: From your use of Free Software, what do you think is the biggest thing holding it back?

Rolf Camps: In this house (I have three kids), it’s lack of a fully functional Flash player. Other members of the family want it for games and for browsing websites. I’ve tried Gnash, and for me it’s good enough, but not for everyone. Videos work, but complex scripts often have problems.

Secret file formats are also a problem. I can use ODF, but for people who have to collaborate with others, incompatibility can be a big problem. .doc files mostly work, but .docx support is bad. The file contents are displayed messed up. I was using OpenOffice.org 2.4. Maybe OpenOffice.org 3.0 improves this.

COR: I’ve seen various groups advocating the use of open standards within the Belgian government. Do you know if these are making progress?

Rolf Camps: In one of the offices of the federal government, 50% of the computers are using GNU/Linux. I’m not sure who it was that convinced the ministry to do this.

The Belgian ID cards also work with GNU/Linux. Using the same card reader that the CryptoCard uses, you can authenticate yourself for declaring taxes online (Tax-on-web) and request official documents etc. The government put manuals online for GNU/Linux, just as it does for Windows and Apple.

In 2006 the Belgian government took the decision that by end 2008 ODF had to be used for all documents used in and between federal offices. But they left the door open for OOXML. So now two years later Microsoft has built an innovation centre in Bergen and somehow managed to get OOXML approved by ISO so …?

COR: How visible would you say Free Software is then to Belgians?

Rolf Camps: It’s not consistently visible, but there are times, like two years ago when the teachers of secondary schools in Flanders received a CD of GNU/Linux and a CD of Free Software for Windows. But in the the school where my wife works, they got no explanation and it was never used. The CD was payed for by the Flemish government, coordinated by Jan De Craemers.

So there are people doing things, but there’s a lack of coordination or a lack of awareness of who’s doing these things.

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Thanks to Rolf Camps for giving us the time for this interview. Until next month!