Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Voicemail Sandwich On

I tested a new voicemail service that does transcription for the hearing impaired and can be read by cell phone text message or by computer e-mail. Don’t be surprised if “transcription for the hearing impaired” becomes “sandwich on for hearing in pairs.“ I keep thinking I am going to write an entire blog of nothing but the malapropisms of captions and transcriptions. Those of us who depend on them are side-splittingly familiar with these sometimes outrageous “best guesses” and hilarious homonyms. Somebody should coin a special new word or phrase for this phenomenon. Maybe somebody already has, and it just got mangled in translation.

Testcall: Hello yes ... ... this is me ... hope all is well and ... I'm checking out this ... voicemail transcription…. I just want to let you know that my grand son Chance ... Watches Sponge Bob Square Pants ... Or would watch it 24/7 on the television or close to that much ... this is a test and ... the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back ... 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.

Transcription: Hello yes ... ... this is louise ... hope all is well and ... I'm checking out this ... voicemail sandwich on…. I just want to let you know that my grand son chance ... walk to sponge bob square pants ... boardwalk to 247 on that or ally will both that much ... this is a test and ... the quick brown fox just over the lazy dog bye ... warren to 3 for 5 6 southwest I 9 tate ron.

I’m not trying to kill the messenger. The most recent Oxford English Dictionary (Second Edition, 1989) was printed in 20 volumes, consisting of 291,500 entries in 21,730 pages. Add the quirks and varieties of spoken accents: Georgia, Texas, New York, California, India, England. Even in today’s world of gigabit computer technology, the human element itself is daunting.

I was very excited to read about You Mail, a new voicemail service offering a free trial and promising “nearly-perfect” transcriptions delivered by cell phone and computer as a text message and e-mail. If you like it, you can get as many as 50 messages per month for $6.99. Basically your phone has to be set to forward unanswered calls to You Mail instead of your regular voicemail. Any time you want to switch back, all you have to do is stop the call forwarding.

Your callers hear this message: “Your voicemail is being transcribed by You Mail. Please speak clearly.” All y’all. A text transcription of the voicemail message rings your cell phone quicker than you can search for it in your pockets or hunt in your purse. Computer e-mail delivery is not quite as fast but only just not quite. What You Mail calls “near perfect” transcriptions are no worse than cable television captions.

The cell phone I carry is a pre-paid, a great savings for me, because I only use it for emergency and brief messages. However, my pre-paid plan does not allow call forwarding, so I could not use You Mail without changing plans. My cell phone service also charges $0.20 per text message. I am looking into another plan with texts, call minutes, and long distance unlimited for a flat rate of $40 per month. I would have to add the call forwarding option for another $5.


Tina said...

My uncle has scrolling words on his TV screen and sometimes there are some real howlers.

Albert said...

TechCrunch reports that YouTube has launched auto-captions for English-language videos. In short, they're using machine translation to provide subtitles (also known as "closed captioning") on many of their videos. Not every video can be auto-captioned, and the captions won't be perfect - in fact, in many cases, I expect the captions will be quite bad. But it's a big step, and an exciting start. Video publishers can fine-tune the captions themselves, which should lead to a huge increase the amount (and quality) of closed-captioned content available online.

Here are some clarifications from Google's engineering team about the auto-captions and their limitations:

. While we plan to broaden the feature to include more languages in the months to come, currently, auto-captioning is only for videos where English is spoken.

. Just like any speech recognition application, auto-captions require a clearly spoken audio track. Videos with background noise or a muffled voice can't be auto-captioned. President Obama's speech on the recent Chilean Earthquake is a good example of the kind of audio that works for auto-captions.

. Auto-captions aren't perfect and just like any other transcription, the owner of the video needs to check to make sure they're accurate. In other cases, the audio file may not be good enough to generate auto-captions. But please be patient - our speech recognition technology gets better every day.

. Auto-captions should be available to everyone who's interested in using them. We're also working to provide auto-captions for all past user uploads that fit the above mentioned requirements. If you're having trouble enabling them for your video, please visit our Help Center: this article is for uploaders and this article is for viewers.

Here's a video by students at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, using the auto-captioning feature, explaining how the feature helps the deaf - and those who are learning English:

After the jump, check out a regular video and note how the captions aren't always perfect. But.better than nothing.

Here's John Green, former _floss writer and blogger. You may need to hit the little "CC" button to turn on captions, depending on your platform. Also, if you're using the HTML5 beta (in other words, if you're an extreme nerd like me), captions don't work - until you opt out of the beta. Now, I'll be honest - the auto-captioning kinda sucks here. Then again, it's a whole lot better than nothing, and Green is using a bunch of self-coined terms like "Nerdfighter" and "Nerdfighteria."

I'm wondering if anyone can find a good example of the auto-captioning working well? Post links in the comments. (Note that Google mentions Obama's recent speech on the Chilean earthquake as an example of the captions working well. It looks to me like those captions have been hand-tweaked, as another copy of that same speech here shows lots of mistakes. Not awful mistakes, but certainly not perfect.)

Paw Paw Bill said...

Thanks. I have posted a link to the original of this article on my sidebar. It contains links within it to all the refrences.


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