Transcribing a Sermon, Illuminating a Manuscript

For work, I’m transcribing a 1966 Thanksgiving Sermon from the Riverside Church. While we have a site setup so anyone can help us correct transcripts, this work is to improve our transcript creation process. We use software called Kaldi to create transcripts from audio and video files. The software isn’t perfect and the transcripts have a lot of mistakes. However, something is better than nothing and it improves our keyword search capability for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.

We’ve been working with the Computational Linguistics Lab at Brandeis University to improve our transcripts with pre and post processing. One tool the Brandeis team developed is an audio segmenter, so that we can get the timecodes for music in a file, and then use the timecodes to skip those sections of the video so that Kaldi won’t try to make words out of music.

In order to test the software, I needed some transcripts with music in them. So, I grabbed the Thanksgiving Sermon and I’ve been transcribing the sermon of James A. Farmer Jr. Along the way, I’ve been thinking of monks copying and illuminating manuscripts, and this parallel feeling of doing something similar with modern technology.

I’m copying religious words for preservation and access. The mind wanders when copying a sermon. At moments, I dwell on what the minister says. Lose myself briefly as I think about this church in New York City at that moment in time.

There won’t be any doodles in the margins of my transcripts. How does one doodle in a text editor? ASCII art? There is, however, a line which passes from me through history to other people who have copied and preserved the words of God.

Summer in Boston

It’s our second full summer in Boston. It’s also our second full summer of Covid-19. We moved here in August of 2019 amidst a whirlwind and by the time our emotions and thoughts caught up to us the pandemic was here. Right now, though, I’m reminded of my mom. The weather is similar to that of Michigan. Some hot, humid days with the windows open and the sounds of the neighborhood pouring through. Our kids are running around the house with their babysitter, and I wish I could share these times with my mom. Tell her how they remind me of my childhood with her. My mom was a steady presence in my life. Always there. 

Return to the Farmer’s Market

About a month ago we all went back to the Farmer’s Market for the first time since Covid. It was wonderful! People smiled. Joy bubbled in the air. I saw faces full of happiness and exuberance. It was a major step toward life feeling normal again. I can’t wait to go back again.

What experiences have surprised you as activities open up?

March 2021 Books

For March, I read three books: Beloved by Toni Morrison, Deacon King Kong by James McBride, and The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson.

Beloved was tough to read, but feels like a necessary book. It further grounds American history as a horror story.

Deacon King Kong was rambunctious, full of life, both funny and sad. It reminded me a bit of A Confederacy of Dunces in its ensemble cast and depiction of characters.

Finally, The Space Between Worlds is a fun many-worlds interpretation science-fiction book that adds some twists to the concept of a multiverse and creates a story that will leave the reader guessing.