Auto-garbled captioning

YouTube recently introduced automatic captioning for its videos. "O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!" said people* I work with who are faced with the time-consuming and tricky task of creating transcripts for videos. Having seen some very … odd … output from high-end, state-of-the-art, speech recognition software, I suggested they wait to see for themselves before getting too excited.

I could easily make this a "bloopers" post, but it's almost too easy. Did you see the one where Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville says, "what the application does" but the automatic captioning is, "for the prostitutes"? That particular video is transcribed so poorly that it's not clear that it would save any time to edit their transcript file over doing it yourself.

But I think a better measurement of accuracy is looking at how a particular word or phrase is transcribed in the same video. Let's take a look at Mark Roth giving a TEDTalk, Suspended animation is within our grasp where he uses the phrase "hydrogen sulfide" fifteen times. It's correctly transcribed five times, including the first time he says it. The rest are pretty far off, and give you no idea what he's talking about. This is a problem - it's a key fact in his presentation.

  1. hydrogen sulfide (8:42)
  2. I didn't sell five (8:44)
  3. hydrogen sulfide (9:04)
  4. some hydrant sell fighting (10:17)
  5. hundreds cell five (10:48)
  6. hydrogen sulfide (11:14)
  7. him I didn't sell fight (11:36)
  8. I didn't sell five (13:43)
  9. hydrogen sulfide (14:04)
  10. hydrogen sulfide (14.17)
  11. hide himself I (14:46)
  12. apply to sell five (14:55)
  13. the party itself by (16:18)
  14. I didn't sell side (16:28)
  15. high turn still fighters (17:07)

The take-away is clear. If you care about accuracy, if you want people to be able to understand what is actually being said, do not rely solely on automatic captioning.

* No, they didn't really say that. That's from Lewis Carroll's poem, The Jaberwocky. I wonder what YouTube would make of that?

Teaching about accessibility

This is a great video showcasing some of the things Yahoo is doing to educate their developers about accessibility.

Testing to make sure software the Commonwealth buys or creates can be used by people is a big part of my job these days, and a big part of that is just making people aware that people with disabilities can and do use computers and the Internet.

Yes, blind people can use the web ... unless the website was made in such a way that they can't. And what a shame it is when that happens, because the Internet has made it more possible for people with disabilities to live independent, productive lives.

Unchecked and unbalanced

I originally wrote this little piece in October 2008. I dug it up again today in light of the Supreme Court ruling today. (Supreme Court Issues Major Campaign Finance Decision Although many are seeing the ruling as a step backwards for campaign reform, the McCain-Feingold law didn't seem to be all that effective in limiting the influence of corporations.

Unchecked and unbalanced

In an article in Sunday's Boston Globe ([October 5, 2008] p.A1, A10), David Haskins of Nevada was quoted as saying, "Our founding fathers never envisioned government to be so involved in business." But the inverse is even more true: our founding fathers never envisioned business to be so involved in government.

Our huge corporations today have a level of power and influence that in the 1700's was limited to nations. Unlike nations, corporations have no long-terms concerns over sovereign lands or people to balance their pursuit of wealth.

This leads to the interesting phenomenon of corporations who spend more on campaign contributions and lobbying than they do in taxes. The money that could be used for our public infrastructure - that they benefit from, too, and perhaps more than most - is used instead to distort the democratic decision making process, and has to be made up by increasing the burden on individual citizens and smaller businesses.

The authors of our Constitution created checks and balances within the government and sought to protect us from the power and influence of organized religions, but provided neither checks and balances nor protection from corporations.

Voting is a Family Value

My husband and I have been taking our son with us when we vote since he was an infant. We believe that voting is not only a privilege but a responsibility, and felt that the best way to make sure our son know that was to involve him in the process.

Of course, that process begins before you head to the polls. We discussed issues and positions at home, and encouraged him to take part in those conversations. We talked about what we read in the newspapers. We showed him how to use the web to find out more information.

Today was a proud day for me. This time when we went to the polls with our son, he got a ballot, too.

P.S. 1:56pm

I forgot to mention how happy it made the poll workers. I asked one of them to take a picture of us. "That's the first time I've ever seen that!" All of them were beaming at us.

Do you love your job?

I sent this link to my son, knowing he would enjoy it:

Cactus Flight 1549 Accident Reconstruction (US Airways)

      "The NTSB released the public docket for Flight 1549 on June 9, 2009. The docket contains a wealth of information that can be utilized in a full 3D reconstruction of the accident. Our work goes deep into the underlying framework of information and encompasses the entire spectrum of accident information. Integrating all spatial and temporal data allows us to approach this accident from a never-before-seen perspective. The ability to flexibly combine data, camera views and other visual elements is a key advantage in presenting an engaging real-time presentation of the accident sequence."

      He wrote back, "I love that during take-off he says, 'What a view of the Hudson.'" and I replied, "That's a man who loves his job."

      When you love your job and you're confident in your abilities, you are mindful of the not just the routine tasks - pulling up the landing gear - but also the side benefits - the beautiful view of the Hudson River. And those side benefits can make you better at your job, too.

      Air traffic controllers thought "airports" for landing. Capt. Sullenberger didn't even try - he had immediately ascertained he wouldn't make it to an airport and stopped thinking about it, while the towers kept scouring around for a runway. Instead, he started preparing for the difficult landing coming up. If he hadn't admired the river earlier, would he have been so quick to identify it as a better bet than trying to reach a runway?

      We all know about the landing gear parts of our jobs. But, what are the beautiful views in your job? And do you share them with your co-pilot(s), too?

    Too hard is the worst excuse

    Untold hours are spent by web designers and developers to make sure their creations work in different browsers and platforms. They may curse and mutter and otherwise cast aspersions upon the creators of various browsers - in fact, I think it's in the job description - but they do it.

    They research and experiment to learn workarounds, which are then used on their future work. All this is to be sure as many people as possible have the best experience using the website.

    On the other hand, accessibility is seen as some special extra feature that must be cost justified, and then isn't addressed because it is "too hard" so it "costs too much".

    Accessibility is no harder and no more expensive than any other part of web development. Everything is hard and expensive if you don't know how to do it, and it's not hard when you know how. So learn how to do it, just like you learn to do anything else on the web. There is no shortage of useful information on the web; for instance, here's a place to start: WaSP InterAct Curriculum: Accessibility.

    If you can't be bothered to learn what it takes to make websites accessible, then don't bother to call yourself a professional.

    Note: Accessibility means making sure your sites work for people who use screen readers, speech-to-text software, specialized hardware, and other adaptive technologies. It means taking into account color-blindness and eye fatigue. It means taking into account people working in noisy rooms and moving vehicles. All told, accessibility features accommodate the needs of up to 20% of your users, and perhaps even more.

    Don't let your account tweet without you

    There are so many nifty Twitter tools out there, but my enthusiasm was always dampened for the ones that asked for my Twitter username and password. Why on Earth would I trust them? If they were really that good, I would use them and then immediately change my password.

    Then Twitter introduced OAuth, named for a shortening of "open authentication". Instead of giving them my credentials, I told Twitter that it was okay to access my account. Very clever, and so much less risk.

    Or so I thought. When you grant access to your account, you are not granting it for just that one time. Your permission continues, even if you change your password. Some of the recent "DM" account hacks have been attributed to a service taking advantage of permission granted via OAuth, so we are back where we started: we have to trust a service before we can find out if it is worthwhile.

    Fortunately, there is a fix.

    Log in to your Twitter account on the web and select the "Settings" link. See the tab on the right for "Connections"? That lists all of the third parties to whom you have given access with OAuth. Now go through the list and click on the "Revoke Access" link under the description for each service. This isn't blocking: you can give permission again if and when you visit that service the next time.

    The integrity of your Twitter stream is entirely up to you, so remember to:

    ·       Use strong passwords.

    ·       Change your password periodically.

    ·       Revoke access to third party services immediately after using them.

    Thank you for listing me

    I just read my first article on Twitter List etiquette.(Twitter List Etiquette by Matt Churchill, aka @geetarchurchy, )  I always strive to be polite and be sociable, so I am always interested in social media etiquette articles.

    But he almost lost me on the first recommendation: thank everybody who has put you on a list. I'm no @scobleizer or @chrisbrogan, but individually thanking everybody would flood my stream, annoying my friends and followers no end. Oh, no, I won't be going there.

    And yet, I am grateful, so this is my "thank you" to everyone who has added me to one of their lists. I find it fascinating to see the variety of prisms through which I am seen, and am almost pathetically happy that that many people think my tweeting is worthwhile.