A farewell to arms? When technology gets lost in translation


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Though it predates our digital age, the quip that "to err is human but to really foul things up requires a computer" has never been more apt. Witness last week's Ofcom report into the quality of live subtitles on television. Apparently, it's all the fault of the voice recognition programme used to turn words spoken into words printed, and though Ofcom reported 98 per cent accuracy, it's the 2 per cent of mistakes that got all the attention – see examples such as "engle Bert humper distinct" and the Chinese "year of the whores".

Amusing, perhaps, but a "barrier" for hard of hearing viewers, according to Rob Burley of Action on Hearing Loss. And yet this faulty technology is as nothing compared with the device used to turn printed books into e-books. According to Sarah Wendell – editor of the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books – "if the text is old, and says 'arms', the OCR [optical character recognition] scanner will see it as 'anus'."

She's right. A quick search through Google Books turns up such examples as this, from Sunday Reading for the Young (1882): "Little Milly wound her anus lovingly around Mrs Green's neck …."

Love is in the air

Sad news. They were inseparable for 37 years, attended countless weddings and parties together, and remained a constant as the world around them changed. But last month, Bill and Ben – the original pair of flamingos-in-residence at the Roof Gardens, the urban oasis atop the old Biba building in London – sadly passed away within a few weeks of each other. A spokesperson for the gardens' current occupier, Richard Branson's Virgin Group, however, denies any idea that the surviving flamingo died of a broken heart. "We don't even know what gender they were," she insists. Turns out that flamingos are among the long list of species known to form same-sex relationships, so for once this is a case of the beautiful fact backing up the beautiful story.

One foot in the rave

The world of clubbing is changing No. 1: Last Friday, in the basement of a pub in London's Cavendish Square, some 200 revellers descended for the latest night of something called The Coffin Dodgers Disco. The event (the next one is 6 June, see coffindodgersdisco.com) is a new idea from Carl and Mike, whose company, Uncool Events, also promotes Feeling Gloomy and Club de Fromage. "We want to make sure that going out dancing is not about being cool," says Mike. The Coffin Dodgers Disco operates a strict "no under 28s" door policy and lets genuine OAPs in for nothing. And how exactly do the team enforce this? "We ask people to bring ID, but if they forget we have been known to ask them to sing the theme tune to Rainbow," he says.

University challenged

The world of clubbing is changing No. 2: Founded in 2008 as "an antidote to expensive, soulless mega-clubs", Sink The Pink is, in its founders' own words, "a performance party collective of colourful club kids and fashion trannies". But that's not what concerns us here, because last week Sink The Pink found itself in such company as Bob Dylan and Lady Gaga when a young man named Jacob Mallinson Bird (aka Dinah Lux) submitted his Cambridge dissertation entitled: "We Are Family: Ritual Structure and Pop Music's Role in the Creation of an Egalitarian Community at Sink The Pink".

"I was drawn to Sink The Pink for the very reason that it is not a gay night; it is a queer night for gay and straight people," says Bird. And were eyebrows raised when he announced his topic? "A few," he jokes. "Not by the faculty or teachers, but by students surprised I was allowed to do it...."

Get up and go

While most of us struggle to pay off the mortgage and then cling on to what little property we own for dear life, one US couple have taken a different approach. In 2011, Lynne and Tim Martin, now 67 and 72 years of age respectively, sold their California home and embarked on an experiment to live "home free, based on a mantra of 'postpone nothing'". Since then, the couple have rented accommodation around the world. "When people ask how we can afford such a lifestyle, we explain that … we traded the amount of money we were spending to maintain our lifestyle for a new style – on the road," says Lynne, neglecting to mention the bestselling book (Home Sweet Anywhere), the musical in the making (The Road to Life) and her sideline as a motivational speaker and writer for The Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post.

No rhyme or reason

Another in a now-regular series of limericks based on recent events:

There are two Jeremys we all know

And for Paxo it's off with the show

He got tired of the fights

And the countless late nights

Now if only that Clarkson would go!