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UCL closure, 5 to 11 April 2012

By Tim Causer, on 27 March 2012

UCL will be close for the Easter break on 5 April and reopen on 12 April, during which time the Transcription Desk will remain fully available, though it will be largely unstaffed during this period.

The last full and normal checking of submissions before the break will take place on Friday 30 April. We intend to issue a basic progress update—as we did during the December break—on Friday 6 April. Any submissions received after this date may not be checked until UCL reopens when normal service will be resumed, and we apologise in advance for any inconvenience caused.

If volunteers have any queries about these arrangements, please do contact us before 5 April.

In the meantime, we would like to thank all our volunteers, Facebook and Twitter followers, and readers of the blog for all their support, efforts and interest and hope you all have a good break.

Christmas arrangements 2011

By Tim Causer, on 9 December 2011

As everyone is more than aware, Christmas and new year are fast approaching, and with them comes UCL’s Christmas break. Bentham, as regular readers will be aware, would have disapproved of wasting potential working time on frivolities and holidays, but we at the Bentham Project take a softer line on these matters.

Volunteers should be aware that while the Transcription Desk will remain available over the holiday, it will be largely unstaffed between Thursday 21 December and Monday 9 January. We intend to release the regular Friday progress updates while UCL is closed and will endeavour to answer email queries, but please note that there may be some delay in receiving a response to messages. Transcripts submitted after 20 December will not be checked until our return, and we apologise in advance for any inconvenience this may cause.

If volunteers have any queries about these arrangements, please do contact us before the 21st.

All here at Transcribe Bentham would like to thank our transcribers and Facebook and Twitter followers for their highly valued efforts and support during the last twelve months. We couldn’t have done any of this – quite literally – without all of you. We wish everyone a very happy festive period and all the best for 2012!

Transcribe Bentham @Ars Electronica 2011: Day 4

By Tim Causer, on 5 September 2011

Today was all about the Public Space Squared symposium at the Brucknerhaus, where a host of hugely interesting people spoke. Photographs of the day are available at the Ars Electronica Flickr stream, and recordings of all of the talks are being progressively added to their YouTube channel. The Digital Communities section of the session is available to watch here.

After an introduction from David Sasaki, one of the symposium’s conveners, we were given three superb presentations: Tunisian activist Lina Ben Mhenni described how the overthrow of Ben Ali was not a ‘Facebook Revolution’ or ‘Twitter Revolution’, as well as how the authorities used social media for their own purposes; Zeynep Tufekci discussed technology and collective action, and gave some findings from a survey taken on the ground in Tahrir Square; and Leila Nachawati spoke on citizen journalism and the vicious repression of their own people by the Syrian government.

After lunch came talks from the Digital Communities prize-winning projects, moderated by Beatrice Achelake, one of the jury members. The Golden Nica winner was the Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente, represented by its president, Felipe Heusser; Alexandra Jönsson and Cliff Hammett discussed their Award of Distinction-winning x_msg; and then finally I spoke about Transcribe Bentham. It was a great privilege to be able to talk about TB before the audience.

The final session featured Hu Yong of Beijing University discussing use of the internet in China; Tan Siok Siok spoke about her forthcoming crowdsourced Twitter documentary; and Markus Beckedahl of Netzpolitik discussed digital resources and politics.  This was followed by an enlightening panel discussion, and a summary from Isaac Mao, the symposium’s other convener.

Rounding off the day was – at last! – a chance to see the Tesla Orchestra at the Ars Electronica Centre. In case you were wondering, yes, that is a man in a metal costume playing music with tens of thousands of volts of electricity, generated by the world’s largest Tesla coils.

On behalf of all at Transcribe Bentham, I would like to express gratitude to all at Ars Electronica for their welcome, travel and accommodation arrangements, and letting us attend and present our work. Thanks too to the Digital Communities jury for selecting Transcribe Bentham to receive an award in the Prix, particularly as it was such a hard decision to whittle a very competitive field down to three.

All that remains to say is Auf Wiedersein, Linz! It’s been an honour and pleasure.

Transcribe Bentham @Ars Electronica 2011: Day 3

By Tim Causer, on 4 September 2011

Apologies for being slightly late with this report of yesterday’s events, largely due to preparing for today’s presentation.

Saturday was another largely full day to look around, which began in the gothic splendour of Linz’s beautiful Mariendom, which can seat a staggering 20,000 people. Tucked away in a small room upstairs was a performance of the Android/Human Theatre presentation, Sayonara, in which an android attempts to comfort its dying mistress with poetry (made a little more atmospheric by the faint sound of someone singing Ave Maria in the cathedral as part of a wedding celebration).

I thought that the story didn’t quite work, but Sayonara is essentially an effective showcase for a startlingly realistic android actress. The illusion of her being human, with feelings, is held throughout the performance, and it’s only when the lights come up and focus on her that the android doesn’t look quite right.

Credit: Rubra, Ars Electronica 2011

From there, it was off to the Brucknerhaus to have a look at the Digital Communities exhibition, where it was nice to see a few people milling around. There I met Anna Masoner of ORF Radio  – always good to meet a fellow historian! – and went to record an interview for a programme she’s putting together on digital humanities, which should be broadcast later this year.

TB display panel, Brucknerhaus

Digital Communities Exhibition, Brucknerhaus, Linz

Digital Communities Exhibition, Brucknerhaus, Linz

After that, I felt like some light relief and went off to attend a few talks from scientists from CERN discussing their experiments. Fascinating, if more than a little mind-bending stuff.

The day was rounded off with an extremely pleasant dinner with those speaking at Sunday’s ‘Public Space Squared’ symposium, and good, old-fashioned, late-night panic while getting the TB presentation in order. More on that later!

Transcribe Bentham @Ars Electronica 2011: Day 2

By Tim Causer, on 2 September 2011

A full day today to explore the offerings at this year’s festival, which began in overcast fashion but later exploded into brilliant sunshine.

It seemed natural to begin at Ars Electronica’s bustling HQ, sited on the other side of the Danube from where I’m staying. Exhibits included computer games programmed by under-19s in the ‘Create Your World’ festival-within-the-festival, An installation describing the work of CERN and, the one I found particularly fascinating, the Robotinity gallery. This included all manner of things, from scuttling insect-like robots, to machinery which visualises letters by scanning brain activity, to the latest in prosthetics.

Standing out, though,were two outwardly different, though fundamentally similar robots. The first, a cuddly baby seal which reacts to being stroked by flicking its tail, opening its eyes, and generally being adorable. The second is a child like rubbery thing, answers almost any question you might ask it; when it cocks its head to one side and appears to focus its oddly knowing gaze on you, it’s very disconcerting.

From there, it was to the Offenes Kulturhaus, for the Cyberarts 2011 exhibits. Favourites here were a fog-generating machine able to create a cloud thick enough that you quite literally can’t see your hand in front of your face, and ‘Pigeon D’Or’, in which pigeons were fed with an entirely harmless bacterial culture so that their excrement becomes a disinfectant. Wonders never cease.

The last part of the day – and undoubtedly the highlight – was attending the Ars Electronica Gala at the Brucknerhaus on behalf of the Bentham Project. The Gala began and ended with two stunning performances. First was Alex Roman’s film ‘The Third and the Seventh’ (an Award of Distinction winner), which was utterly spellbinding (made even more powerful by the Michael Nyman soundtrack); and the evening was rounded off by members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra giving a world premiere performance of Ralph Schutti’s ‘Beautiful Music for a Beautiful Beast’, written to honour the Large Hadron Collider.

In between was the main purpose of the evening: the presenting of the winning entries in the seven categories of the Prix Ars Electronica with their Golden Nicas. There were some very inspiring projects on show. The Digital Communities winner – the category in which we received our Award of Distinction – was the Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente (Smart Citizen Foundation), a non-profit organisation which promotes transparency and accountability in South American politics; elsewhere the Choke Point Project, who are attempting to map the internet’s nodes of control in order to prevent governments from simply switching off the internet at times of civil disobedience, as we saw earlier this year in Egypt. Others were more challenging: in May the Horse Live in Me, the artist was gradually immunised with horse blood, before being injected with a full vial without going into anaphylactic shock, the animal and human blood joining together.

It was a genuine honour to attend the Gala. I now just have one question: can I come every year?