dot.SUB — The smallest things are often the hardest


I am on a quest to question most things I know. Since I am not Socrates this is probably an insurmountable task, but that does not stop me from trying.

I am interested in continued learning and have realized that a key component in mastering this discipline is to be willing and able to alter the small, fundamental assumptions and ideas that have been around so long in the rattlebox that I call my brain that there is a very real risk that they are getting to be ingrained and are impacting upon other assumptions and ideas, effectively reducing my ability to make objective and sensible decisions.

As an oncologist would perhaps put it, it is neccesary to surgically remove the tumor before it metastasizes.

One such ingrained small, fundamental assumption is that the creation of subtitles and transcript, i.e. the act of subtitling — if that is indeed a word, is easy. Over the years, I have found myself growing increasingly irritated over the timing and precision of subtitles and transcripts — mostly based on the assumption that transcription and subtitling is easy.

I am sure you see where this is going….

To see how hard transcription and subtitling really is, I went to dot.SUB, an online translation, subtitling, and transcription service that is crowd-based, and transcribed a video using the tools provided.

To make it easy for myself I picked a fictional TED speech by the, equally, fictional Peter Weyland, which is characterized by (1) being short (3 minutes and 9 seconds,) (2) being a monologue, (3) being given by Guy Pierce (in a quasi-American accent) with excellent enunciation (no Mike Jagger here,) and (4) being reasonable accessible from a grammar and vocabulary standpoint.

In other words, I cheated — tilting the complexity of the experiment in my favor.

Guess what? It was incredibly hard. First I found that the actual transcription, i.e. the capture of the words spoken, was very hard, since I had no experience being dictated to. But that was nothing compared to the exercise of getting the timing right when I had to break the transcription into segments. Oh Boy! A second here or a second there makes all the difference in the world for subtitling and determines almost entirely whether or not a video is enjoyable.

I also learned that even if you tune out on the subtitles your subconsciousness will pick up on the timing being off or a word incorrectly transcribed, and weirdly such subconscious error-handling will detract from the overall enjoyment of the video.

So, in summary, mission accomplished… Any assumption that I have had about the creation of subtitles and transcript being easy has been obliterated. This is, in fact, very hard stuff. If you doubt me, try it… dot.SUB is waiting for you. I dare you!

Before I move on to the next thing… Here is the final transcribed video (courtesy of I don’t really know who, probably Ridley Scott, the director, 20th Century Fox, or TED, I am not sure) by way of YouTube (don’t forget to turn on closed caption by hitting the red CC button and choosing dotsub captions:)

Once you have watched the movie, enjoying, no doubt, my handy-work, you should play it again, activating YouTube’s automatic closed caption feature by hitting the red CC button and choosing automatic captions. That is good for a laugh every time (look for Disney to be introduced at 1:04, and the statement that “sales are nothing short of greatness” at 2:33)

Here is the complete transcript:

Subtitles courtesy of Per Jacobsen

T.E. Lawrence, eponymously of Arabia, but very much an Englishman, favored pinching a burning match between his fingers to put it out.

When asked by his colleague, William Potter, to reveal his trick, how is it he so effectively extinguished the flame without hurting himself whatsoever, Lawrence just smiled and said, ‘The trick, Potter, is not minding it hurts.’

The fire that danced at the end of that match was a gift from the Titan, Prometheus, a gift that he stole from the gods. When Prometheus was caught and brought to justice for his theft, the gods, well, you might say they overreacted a little. The poor man was tied to a rock as an eagle ripped through his belly and ate his liver over and over, day after day, ad infinitum. All because he gave us fire, our first true piece of technology.

Fire. 100,000 BC: Stone tools. 4,000 BC: The wheel. 9th century AD: Gunpowder. Bit of a game-changer, that one. 19th century: Eureka! The light bulb! 20th century: The automobile, television, nuclear weapons, space craft, Internet. 21st century: Bio-tech, nano-tech, fusion and fission and M-theory — and that was just the first decade.

We are now three months into the year of Our Lord, 2023. At this moment in our civilization, we can create cybernetic individuals who, in just a few short years, will be completely indistinguishable from us.

Which leads to an obvious conclusion: We are the gods now.

For those of you who know me, you will be aware by now that my ambition is unlimited. You know that I will settle for nothing short of greatness, or I will die trying.

For those of you who do not yet know me, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Peter Weyland. And if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to change the world.

Are you up for the challenge? If you decide to try out subtitling, I would like to hear from you. Also, if you have gone through the process of having to complete reset your expectation, unsettling years of ideas or assumptions, I would like to hear from you.

Feed the starving transcriber

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