Sunday, June 9, 2013

Google swype keyboard censorship

A few months back I switched from using Swiftkey's keyboard for android to using Google's native keyboard. The reason was that there was often an annoying delay from when I pressed a letter to the time it appeared on the screen. This was particularly annoying when I had pressed many letters in a series which I often do when taking notes.

Google's keyboard in contrast is much faster. I have now started using the swype technique where you simply swipe your finger from letter to letter on the keyboard and then some clever software can predict which word you are trying to write with an impressive accuracy. The improvement, once you have learned the technique, is noticeable to say the least. I am writing much faster on my smartphone (I have a Galaxy Nexus), than I ever have before.

I frequently put my daughters to sleep in the pram in the evening, which is perfect because I can walk the dog at the same time. Now, thanks to smartphones in general and apps like audible and swype keyboards in particular, I can also listen to interesting books/podcasts and take notes. All at the same time! I really cannot overstate how lucky I feel to be living in this age where boring walks can be replaced with fascinating books read aloud to you.

One thing is kind of annoying with Google's swype function however, and that is the censoring part. I am currently reading a book about the situation for women in the world (review coming in a few weeks). In this book there is naturally a lot of talk about prostitutes, brothels, sex, pimps, etc etc. The problem is that google censors these words so that when I swipe them, even if I am very accurate in my gesture, the word does not show up.

I can understand why Google have some censoring since you might not want your kids to accidentally swipe inappropriate words like fuck or cunt or shit and then send it to granny because they don't read it b before sending it away. Still there should be a way to turn it off for adults who wish not to be hindered when taking notes on a book. It also seems that their censorship is a bit too strict. I am OK not to be able to swipe the words above but it is very annoying that I cannot swipe words such as prostitute, brothel, feces, or even sex..  I have of course tried to find solutions to this on different forums but so far I have not found any. Note that the problem is not that Google don't have these words in the dictionary, they do! The problem is that when you swipe them they simply do not appear. Please Google, fix this so educating myself does not involve unnecessary frustrations.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

When people use social media to obtain news...

One problem with using social media to get your news is that sometimes news that aren't really new start being spread on a social media. If the news item is sufficiently catchy it can get huge attention in a short amount of time. This is a problem because repeated exposure to a news item tends to make people less critical and to believe that the news item is trustworthy. If all your facebook friends post the same item you assume that they cannot all be mislead. The mistake here is that all your friends don't independently do background checks but rather just re-tweets or re-posts something they have heard elsewhere.

One month ago my wife called me to tell me about a study they had just talked about on the radio (thankfully, this was not the publicly funded radio which would have been very disturbing). According to this study, done by Dr. Weatherby, watching big boobs on a regular basis could add several years to your life. Dr. Weatherby, a Harvard medical scientist published this paper in the prestigious journal: New England Journal of Medicine.

So what is the problem with this? The problem is that it is completely made up. There is no study and there is no Dr. Weatherby! Indeed, this particular story first hit the media in 1997. Back then it was published in a newspaper that publishes funny, but fictional, stories. However, since this original publication it has been re-published several times, apparently by people who thought that there was a real study. Following these re-publications, the story has then gone viral which in turn lead to occasional mentions in uncritical mainstream media outlets.

A few days back another similar thing happened here in Sweden. An article from 2008 about the black widow spider having established itself in Sweden was shared a few times on facebook. Because it was not mentioned (perhaps because it was not noticed) that the article was old, people assumed that it was fresh news. Soon it was all over facebook. According to one report I heard it was shared more than 200000 times. Some Swedish newspapers jumped onto the train and published versions of the 2008 article as if it was fresh news. They had clearly not done their research since even a simple background check would be sufficient to discover the problem.

For all of those who simply skip to the last paragraph (like I do sometimes), looking at big breast does not increase your life span and the black widow spider is not established in Sweden.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Religion car analogy and visit from Jehovah's witnesses

Not too long ago I was visited by two charming young members of Jehovah's witnesses. They wanted to discuss some "deeper thoughts". I immediately came clean saying that I was a member of the Swedish humanists, that I was an atheist and that I had a blog that was critical of religion. Summing up I explained that if they wanted to recruit members they were probably wasting their time.

The two missioners, upon my short introduction, acknowledged that many Christians had performed abominable acts in the past. At this point they introduced an analogy saying that there are many bad drivers but that this does not necessarily mean that there is anything wrong with the car. In other words, the fact that some religious people commit bad act does not mean that religion is bad. I agreed with this statement but the next day I had one of those George Costanza moments where you say to yourself "I should have said THAT". What I should have said of course is that the proper analogy when it comes to Christians is that their car is pretty awful, especially if you insist on a literal interpretation as Jehovas witnesses, but that there are many good drivers which, despite their convictions, live good lives and contribute to their society around them.

Though I don't know the two missioners that knocked on my door, they did seem like genuinely nice people who were interested in my best, which in their view is converting me to their religion. I admire their ability to live good lives (if they do), despite claiming to follow a book that advocates slavery, stoning of women who aren't virgins on their wedding night, and if God says so, massacre an entire populations (including infants and animals). Their accomplishment equates doing a east to west road-trip across the United States in a old school Trabant...

What happens when you get a bad driver in a bad car? Well that is when you get people like Usama Bin Laden, Kone (the Uganda general), or just your average intolerant religious person...

PS: I actually did bring up the Amalekite genocide, asking the two witnesses how they could associate themselves with a God who ordered the killing of an entire population. Their answer? They said that you had to look at Gods motives and also that God would not order such a thing today. In my mind, there is no possible good reason whatsoever, for wiping out an entire group of people. It is genocide and it is a crime.