Last Sunday, Anna Barkin Becker leaves me a voicemail and sends me an SMS, asking me to call her back. Uh-oh, was everything OK? I hoped. She tells me that someone in the career office with either Nefesh B’Nefesh (nonprofit that handles all Aliyah applications from North America) or JAFI (Israeli government agency that promotes Aliyah) called her up and offered her a one-off day job: some Israeli hi tech company has developed voice recognition software that converts voicemail into SMS texts. They have already completed the Hebrew voice recognition part, and now they are working on the North American English portion. For this, they needed native North Americans to come in for a few hours and just read, like, 500 little voicemail scripts into a server to help the software get smarter about recognizing words correctly.
Um, so do you wanna go with me? She asks. Fuck yeah !!! I say. It’s a few hundred shekels cash, plus train fare to spend two hours doing this with my BFF in a town a little south of Tel Aviv. Field Trip !!! Can I just tell you:
We had the best time.
First of all, we had fun on the train ride and were super proud that we didn’t fuck that up. We also made it from the station to the office OK, so we were two-for-two. The people we dealt with in the office were also very nice.
Here comes the fun part. They explained to us how to call into a special number and then wait for a prompt and say each voicemail “in a natural voice…NOT like you are giving dictation, just naturally how you would say it if you were leaving a voicemail.” We had to do 150 of these into a cell phone, 150 into a cell phone’s speakerphone, and then 100 more into a land line. I used my BlackBerry to record myself doing some of them, because they were just too funny.
[OMG, I have just obsessively wasted at least an hour trying to convert these audio BB files into another format, then bringing in black video so I could mix them into video files, and then upload them to YouTube so you could listen to them, whew !!! (I’m exhausted just saying that.) But it didn’t work, and you have to pay extra to directly upload media files to the blog, so take my word for it, they were funny.]
“He changed jobs recently, so I don’t know if you have his new email address.”
“We need to talk to you in regard to the migration of your I.D. from one server to another.”
“If you’re not around, then maybe Monday morning would be the best time to get the computer from you.”
“I already have a algorithm for, uh, expansion, which is converting the 8-bit to 13-bit.”
“It’s OK if she didn’t eat. That’s just fine, and I’m so sorry to bother you at work.”
“I’m just calling in response to your picnic notice. I already sent you two emails.”
(AND MY PERSONAL FAVORITE): “Looks like we have rabbit problems in the garden now!”
Oh, Lordy, I guess you had to be there. But it was funny, because in some room somewhere they were listening to our recording LIVE as we did it, and this guy, Gilad, would come back in and say, Please, would you do those ones again, but this time a little slower. Just a little slower, please. (Oh, yeah, Anna & I are in different rooms by now.) And, so I, like, redo mine, but slower. And then Gilad comes back in saying OK, that was great. But try not to sound like you’re reading dictation. Just read them how you would say them. I’d try again, and he’d reappear with the same Catch-22 direction, If you were leaving a voicemail, you would say things slower, so please do that. (Meanwhile, have I ever left YOU a voicemail? I don’t talk slow, and I usually talk so long, that it cuts me off and I have to call back.) So, anyway, it was very tricky, getting it to where we sounded natural…yet slow. Maybe, like, if we were Locals leaving voicemails in at the parking lot at the Waffle House in Wayne, West Virginia or something. I say “we,” because Anna and I stole a little break to compare notes and then of course there was the whole train ride home.
The funniest thing though, was when she told me that after she read the one in this post’s headline (“Listen Bob – when we made the deal, you never mentioned anything about any damn country codes!”), suddenly she read every one after that in a similarly annoyed tone. (Think: Chandler Bing in a bad mood, having to pee.) You really did just have to be there. Anna’s an actress, and when she went “into character” and recreated some of these for me, I was LOLing all over the place. Looks like we have RABBIT PROBLEMS in the garden now !!
Anna thinks she her work will definitely make the final cut for this firm’s Hanukkah Party Remix.
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