How fat out are you?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The title comes from my smart (-aleck?) phone's "correction" of a simple question I was trying to ask my wife, via text. She and her father were to meet up with me and her mother during a family vacation, and they were a half-hour or so away in a car.

Smart phones and auto-correct come to mind because this morning, just as I sat down to write, I heard, over her monitor, the distinct sound of my daughter vomiting. Yep. Despite the fact we had ear grommets installed a few months ago, this has all the usual symptoms of an ear infection. She has even spontaneously complained of pain in her right ear.

That distinct sound also means I'll be on the phone a lot more than I'd care to be today, setting up a doctor's appointment and probably cancelling a couple of other appointments I'd planned for the day. Some of this will involve texting. Some will involve making entries in calendars and to-do lists. Anything to do with entering text will involve the auto-correct function of my phone, of which it seems I can never be suspicious enough. I am constantly sending supplementary texts like, "'far', not 'fat'" or "'.', not 'n'", after taking a (usually) quick look upon hitting send and seeing that my phone really does treat "fat out" and "n" at the end of a sentence as if they are idiomatic. (I keep a list of the really good ones, but that will have to wait.)

Grousing aside, and as an article I recently encountered through Arts and Letters Daily points out, what is truly remarkable is how much auto-correct gets right. Nevertheless, "The Fasinatng ... Frustrating ... Fascinating History of Autocorrect" does have its own amusing moments:

I called up Thorpe, who now runs a Boston-based startup called Philo, to ask him how the idea for the list came about. An inspiration, as he recalls it, was a certain Microsoft user named Bill Vignola. One day Vignola sent Bill Gates an email. (Thorpe couldn't recall who Bill Vignola was or what he did.) Whenever Bill Vignola typed his own name in MS Word, the email to Gates explained, it was automatically changed to Bill Vaginal. Presumably Vignola caught this sometimes, but not always, and no doubt this serious man was sad to come across like a character in a Thomas Pynchon novel. His email made it down the chain of command to Thorpe. And Bill Vaginal wasn't the only complainant: As Thorpe recalls, Goldman Sachs was mad that Word was always turning it into Goddamn Sachs. 
So take a break from your busy routine -- as shall I -- and marvel at the technological wizardry behind auto-correct.

But never let your guard down!

-- CAV


Vigilis said...

Gus, before the introduction of MS WORD handwritten audit reports were being typed by the department secretary into a state-of-the-art Xerox word processor.

I will always remember proofreading one report before high-level corporate distribution. I was astonished to find that the term "erratic processing" had been miscorrected to "erotic processing.

Steve D said...

I turn the autocorrect off a lot but then every time I turn my phone off, it resets as the default condition.

Autocorrect makes an already difficult job (typing on a screen) much more difficult and time consuming.

What's up with that?

Gus Van Horn said...

Nice. My phone, crafted by Google, seems to have a few oddities attributable to Google, such as suggesting corrections to numbers (!) that HAVE to be based on something like rifling through any file on or available to the phone. Otherwise, I don't see how, for example, W-2, shorthand for a day of the week and a day of the month, got auto-expanded into some thirty-or-so character string that included my phone number.

Gus Van Horn said...

Oops! A comment spammer nearly caused me to miss Steve D's comment, to which this is a reply...

Yes. I am a good speller and would prefer not to have auto-correct most of the time. In particular, proper names are annoying because you have to tap them to get them accepted. If you get jostled while typing (a common occurrence for a parent) and puncuation follows the proper name, you may have to reset the cursor to the end of the just-verified word, which then gets "corrected" anyway once the punctuation is added. Then you have to hit the word again to get THE NAME YOU JUST TYPED IN AND VERIFIED to show up as an acceptable option. The you have to reset the cursor nine times out of ten...

Steve D said...

Well honestly, I'd probably prefer not to have the auto-checker even if I was a bad speller. It would make it worse. When I first got my phone, it kept auto correcting my words to German words (???). Almost every third word would require recorrecting the auto-corrector. Over time tapping on words to get them accepted, lessened the frequency/risk of autocorrecting. Most of the words I use are now in my phone dictionary so the auto correct seldom pesters me anymore.

What I don’t understand is given how good the spell/grammar/style checks have become (e.g. Word) , how the phone spell checker could start out so bad. Or why you can’t just turn it off? (Or possibly, I’m just venting)

I’m betting it was a prank. (I can’t wait to see your list)

Gus Van Horn said...

Those are good questions. Perhaps, regarding how some spell checkers can turn out so bad, Microsoft owns patents on some spell checking technology, and competitors are having to figure out different ways of doing it. Or perhaps some vendors, like Google, see their approach as better in the long run, but haven't ironed out all the kinks yet.