Posts Tagged software
Accessibility is for everyone. I say that whenever an abled person finds a way that an accessibility feature benefits them. But that’s not all that it means. There are really three different meanings to that phrase:
- Accessibility exists to make things accessible to everyone.
- At some point, everyone has some kind of impairment which accessibility can help them with.
- Changes that make things more accessible can be useful, convenient, or just plain fun, even for people who are 100% unimpaired.
Is this article for everyone?
This is a bare-bones outline of ways accessibility is for everyone, with a few lists of examples from my personal experience, and not much prose. This topic is fractal, though, and like a Koch Snowflake, even its outline could extend to infinite length. I’ve linked to more in-depth references where I knew of them, but tried not to go too far into detail on how to make things accessible. There are much better references for that — let me know of the ones you like in the comments.
I am not everyone
Although I do face mobility challenges in the physical world, as a software developer, I know the most about accessibility as it applies to computers. Within that, I have most experience with text-to-speech, so a lot of the examples relate to that. I welcome comments on aspects I missed. I am not an expert on accessibility, but I’d like to be.
The accessibility challenges that affect me the most are:
- A lack of fluency in the language of the country I live in
- Being short (This sounds harmless, but I once burnt my finger slightly because my microwave is mounted above my line of sight.)
- Cerebral palsy spastic diplegia
That last thing does not actually affect how I use computers very much, but it is the reason I’ve had experience with modern computers from a young age.
Accessibility makes things accessible to everyone
Accessibility is for everyone — it allows everyone to use or take part in something, not just people with a certain range of abilities. This is the real goal of accessibility, and this alone is enough to justify improving accessibility. The later points in this article might help to convince people to allocate resources to accessibility, but always keep this goal in mind.
Ideally, everyone should be able to use a product without asking for special accommodations. If not, there should be a plan to accommodate those who ask, when possible. At the very least, nobody should be made to feel like they’re being too demanding just for asking for the same level of access other people get by default. Accessibility is not a feature — lack of accessibility is a bug.
Don’t make people ask
If some people have to ask questions when others don’t, the product is already less accessible to them — even if you can provide everything they ask for. This applies in a few scenarios:
- Asking for help to use the product (e.g. help getting into a building, or using a app)
- Asking for help accessing the accessibility accommodations. For example, asking for the key for an elevator, or needing someone else to configure the accessibility settings in software. Apple does a great job of this by asking about accessibility needs, with the relevant options turned on, during installation of macOS.
- Asking about the accommodations available to find out if something is accessible to them before wasting time, spoons, or money on it. Make this information publicly available, e.g. on the website of your venue or event, or in your app’s description. Here’s a guide on writing good accessibility information.
Asking takes time and effort, and it can be difficult and embarrassing, whether because someone has to ask many times a day, or because they don’t usually need help and don’t like acknowledging when they do.
In software, ‘making people ask’ is making them set up accessibility in your app when they’ve already configured the accessibility accommodations they need in the operating system. Use the system settings, rather than having your own settings for font size, dark mode, and so on. If the user has to find your extra settings before they can even use your app, there’s a good chance they won’t. Use system components as much as possible, and they’ll respect accessibility options you don’t even know about.
If they ask, have an answer
Perhaps you don’t have the resources to provide certain accommodations to everyone automatically, or it doesn’t make sense to. In that case:
- make it clear what is available.
- make asking for it as easy as possible (e.g. a checkbox or text field on a booking form, rather than instructions to call somebody)
- make an effort to provide whatever it is to those who ask for it.
Assume the person really does need what they’re asking for — they know their situation better than you do.
If the answer is ‘no, sorry’, be compassionate about it
If you can’t make something accessible to a given group of people, don’t feel bad; we all have our limitations. But don’t make those people feel bad either — they have their limitations too, and they’re the ones missing out on something because of it. Remember that they’re only asking for the same thing everyone else gets automatically — they didn’t choose to need help just to annoy you.
If you simply didn’t think about their particular situation, talk with them about steps you could take. Don’t assume you know what they can or can’t do, or what will help them.
Everyone can be impaired
Accessibility is for everyone. But just like how even though all lives matter it is unfortunately still necessary to remind some people that black lives do, to achieve accessibility for everyone, we need to focus on the people who don’t get it by default. So who are they?
Apple’s human interface guidelines for accessibility say this better than I could:
Approximately one in seven people worldwide have a disability or impairment that affects the way they interact with the world and their devices. People can experience impairments at any age, for any duration, and at varying levels of severity. Situational impairments — temporary conditions such as driving a car, hiking on a bright day, or studying in a quiet library — can affect the way almost everyone interacts with their devices at various times.
This section will mostly focus on accessibility of devices such as computers, tablets, and phones. It’s what I know best, and malfunctioning hardware can be another source of impairment. Even if you don’t consider yourself disabled, if you haven’t looked through the accessibility settings of your devices yet, do so — you’re sure to find something that will be useful to you in some situations. I’ll list some ways accessibility can help with hardware issues and other situational impairments below.
Apple defines four main kinds of impairment:
There’s a big gap between someone with 20/20 full-colour vision in a well-lit room looking at an appropriately-sized, undamaged screen, and someone with no vision whatsoever. There’s even a big gap between someone who is legally blind and someone with no vision whatsoever. Whenever we are not at the most abled end of that spectrum, visual accessibility tools can help.
Here are some situations where I’ve used Vision accessibility settings to overcome purely situational impairments:
- When sharing a screen over a videoconference or to a projector, use screen zoom, large cursor or font sizes, and Hover Text (on macOS.) This makes things visible to the audience regardless of the size of their videoconference window or how far they are from the projector screen.
- When an internet connection is slow, or you don’t want to load potential tracking images in emails, image descriptions (alt text) let you know what you’re missing.
- When a monitor doesn’t work until the necessary software is installed and configured, use a screenreader to get through the setup. I’ve done this on a Mac, after looking up how to use VoiceOver on another device.
There’s a big gap between someone with perfect hearing and auditory processing using good speakers at a reasonable volume in an otherwise-quiet room, and someone who hears nothing at all. There’s even a big gap between someone who is Deaf and someone who hears nothing at all. Whenever we are not at the most abled end of that spectrum, hearing accessibility tools can help.
Here are some situations where I’ve used Hearing accessibility settings when the environment or hardware was the only barrier:
- When one speaker is faulty, change the panning settings to only play in the working speaker, and turn on ‘Play stereo audio as mono’.
- When a room is noisy or you don’t want to disturb others with sound, use closed captions.
Physical and Motor
There’s a big gap between someone with a full range of controlled, pain-free movement using a perfectly-functioning device, in an environment tailored to their body size, and someone who can only voluntarily twitch a single cheek muscle (sorry, but we can’t all be Stephen Hawking.) Whenever we are not at the most abled end of that spectrum, motor accessibility tools can help.
Here are some situations where you can use Physical and Motor accessibility to overcome purely situational impairments:
- When a physical button on an iPhone doesn’t work reliably, use Back Tap, Custom Gestures, or the AssistiveTouch button to take over its function.
- When you’re carrying something bulky, use an elevator. I’ve shared elevators with people who have strollers, small dogs, bicycles, suitcases, large purchases, and disabilities. I’ve also been yelled at by someone who didn’t think I should use an elevator, because unlike him, I had no suitcase. Don’t be that person.
Literacy and Learning
This one is also called Cognitive. There’s a big gap between an alert, literate, neurotypical adult of average intelligence with knowledge of the relevant environment and language, and… perhaps you’ve thought of a disliked public figure you’d claim is on the other end of this spectrum. There’s even a big gap between that person and the other end of this spectrum, and people in that gap don’t deserve to be compared to whomever you dislike. Whenever we are not at the most abled end of that spectrum, cognitive accessibility considerations can help.
Here are some situations where I’ve used accessibility when the environment was the only barrier to literacy:
- When watching or listening to content in a language you know but are not fluent in, use closed captions or transcripts to help you work out what the words are, and find out the spelling to look them up.
- When reading in a language you know but are not fluent in, use text-to-speech in that language to find out how the words are pronounced.
- When consuming content in a language you don’t know, use subtitles or translations.
Accessibility features benefit abled people
Sometimes it’s hard to say what was created for the sake of accessibility and what wasn’t. Sometimes products for the general public bring in the funding needed to improve assistive technologies. Here are some widely-used things which have an accessibility aspect:
- The Segway was based on self-balancing technology originally developed for wheelchairs. Segways and the like are still used by some people as mobility devices, even if they are not always recognised as such.
- Voice assistants such as Siri rely on speech recognition and speech synthesis technology that has applications in all four domains of accessibility mentioned above.
- Light or Dark mode may be a style choice for one person and an essential visual accessibility tool for another.
Other technology is more strongly associated with accessibility. Even when your body, your devices, or your environment don’t present any relevant impairment, there are still ways that these things can be useful, convenient, or just plain fun.
Some accessibility accommodations let abled people do things they couldn’t do otherwise.
- Transcripts, closed captions, and image descriptions are easily searchable.
- I’ve used text-to-speech APIs to generate the initial rhyme database for my rhyming dictionary, rhyme.science
- I’ve used text-to-speech to find out how words are pronounced in different languages and accents.
- Menstruators can use handbasins in accessible restroom stalls to rinse out menstrual cups in privacy. (This is not an argument for using accessible stalls when you don’t need them — it’s an argument for more handbasins installed in stalls!)
Some accessibility tech lets abled people do things they would be able to do without it, but in a more convenient way.
- People who don’t like switching between keyboard and mouse can enable full keyboard access on macOS to tab through all controls. They can also use keyboard shortcuts.
- People who don’t want to watch an entire video to find out a piece of information can quickly skim a transcript.
- I’ve used speak announcements on my Mac for decades. If my Mac announces something while I’m on the other side of the room, I know whether I need to get up and do something about it.
- Meeting attendees could edit automatic transcripts from videoconferencing software (e.g. Live Transcription in Zoom) to make meeting minutes.
- I’ve used text-to-speech on macOS and iOS to speak the names of emojis when I wasn’t sure what they were.
- Pre-chopped produce and other prepared foods save time even for people who have the dexterity and executive function to prepare them themselves.
Some accessibility tech lets us do things that are not exactly useful, but a lot of fun.
- Hosts of the Lingthusiasm podcast, Lauren Gawne and Gretchen McCulloch, along with Janelle Shane, fed transcripts of their podcasts into an artificial intelligence to generate a quirky script for a new episode, and then recorded that script.
- I’ve used text-to-speech to sing songs I wrote that I was too shy to sing myself.
- I’ve used text-to-speech APIs to detect haiku in any text.
- Automated captions of video conferencing software and videos make amusing mistakes that can make any virtual party more fun. Once you finish laughing, make sure anyone who needed the captions knows what was really said.
- I may have used the ’say’ command on a server through an ssh connection to surprise and confuse co-workers in another room. 😏
- I find stairs much more accessible if they have a handrail. You might find it much more fun to slide down the balustrade. 😁
Advocating accessibility is for everyone
I hope you’ve learnt something about how or why to improve accessibility, or found out ways accessibility can improve your own life. I’d like to learn something too, so put your own ideas or resources in the comments!
A few years ago I noticed a linguistic habit of Twitter user Donald Trump, and decided to emulate it by writing an app that automatically adds insults before nouns — NastyWriter. But he’s not on Twitter any more, and Valentine’s Day is coming up, so it’s time to make things nicer instead.
My new iOS app, NiceWriter, automatically adds positive adjectives, highlighted in pink, before the nouns in any text entered. Most features are the same as in NastyWriter:
- You can use the contextual menu or the toolbar to change or remove any adjectives that don’t fit the context.
- You can share the sweetened text as an image similar to the one in this post.
- You can set up the ‘Give Me a Compliment’ Siri Shortcut to ask for a random compliment at any time, or create a shortcut to add compliments to text you’ve entered previously. You can even use the Niceify shortcut in the Shortcuts app to add compliments to text that comes from another Siri action.
- If you copy and paste text between NiceWriter and NastyWriter, the app you paste into will replace the automatically-generated adjectives with its own, and remember which nouns you removed the adjectives from.
The app is free to download, and will show ads unless you buy an in-app purchase to remove them. I’ve made NiceWriter available to run on M1 Macs as well, though I don’t have one to test it on, so I can’t guarantee it will work well.
In the process of creating NiceWriter, I made a few improvements to NastyWriter — notably adding input and output parameters to its Siri Shortcut so you can set up a workflow to nastify the results of other Siri Shortcuts, and then pass them on to other actions. I also added four new insults, and fixed a few bugs. All of these changes are in NastyWriter 2.1.
That’s all you really need to know, but for more details on how I chose the adjectives for NiceWriter and what I plan to do next, read on.Read the rest of this entry »
Edit: As of 8 January, 2021, @realdonaldtrump is no longer a Twitter user, but he was at the time of this post.
Version 2.0.1 of my iOS app NastyWriter has 184 different insults (plus two extra special secret non-insults that appear rarely for people who’ve paid to remove ads 🤫) which it can automatically add before nouns in the text you enter. “But Angela,” I hear you not asking, “you’re so incredibly nice! How could you possibly come up with 184 distinct insults?” and I have to admit, while I’ve been known to rap on occasion, I have not in fact been studying the Art of the Diss — I have a secret source. (This is a bonus joke for people with non-rhotic accents.)
My secret source is the Trump Twitter Archive. Since NastyWriter is all about adding gratuitous insults immediately before nouns, which Twitter user @realdonaldtrump is such a dab hand at, I got almost all of the insults from there. But I couldn’t stand to read it all myself, so I wrote a Mac app to go through all of the tweets and find every word that seemed to be an adjective immediately before a noun. I used NSLinguisticTagger, because the new Natural Language framework did not exist when I first wrote it.
Natural language processing is not 100% accurate, because language is complicated — indeed, the app thought ‘RT’, ‘bit.ly’, and a lot of twitter @usernames (most commonly @ApprenticeNBC) and hashtags were adjectives, and the usernames and hashtags were indeed used as adjectives (usually noun adjuncts) e.g. in ‘@USDOT funding’. One surprising supposed adjective was ‘gsfsgh2kpc’, which was in a shortened URL mentioned 16 times, to a site which Amazon CloudFront blocks access to from my country.
For each purported adjective the app found, I had a look at how it was used before adding it to NastyWriter’s insult collection. Was it really an adjective used before a noun? Was it used as an insult? Was it gratuitous? Were there any other words it was commonly paired with, making a more complex insult such as ‘totally conflicted and discredited’, or ‘frumpy and very dumb’? Was it often in allcaps or otherwise capitalised in a specific way?
But let’s say we don’t care too much about that and just want to know roughly which adjectives he used the most. Can you guess which is the most common adjective found before a noun? I’ll give you a hint: he uses it a lot in other parts of sentences too. Here are the top 35 as of 6 November 2020:
- ‘great’ appears 4402 times
- ‘big’ appears 1351 times
- ‘good’ appears 1105 times
- ‘new’ appears 1034 times
- ‘many’ appears 980 times
- ‘last’ appears 809 times
- ‘best’ appears 724 times
- ‘other’ appears 719 times
- ‘fake’ appears 686 times
- ‘American’ appears 592 times
- ‘real’ appears 510 times
- ‘total’ appears 509 times
- ‘bad’ appears 466 times
- ‘first’ appears 438 times
- ‘next’ appears 407 times
- ‘wonderful’ appears 375 times
- ‘amazing’ appears 354 times
- ‘only’ appears 325 times
- ‘political’ appears 310 times
- ‘beautiful’ appears 298 times
- ‘fantastic’ appears 279 times
- ‘tremendous’ appears 270 times
- ‘massive’ appears 268 times
- ‘illegal’ appears 254 times
- ‘incredible’ appears 254 times
- ‘nice’ appears 251 times
- ‘strong’ appears 250 times
- ‘greatest’ appears 248 times
- ‘true’ appears 247 times
- ‘major’ appears 243 times
- ‘same’ appears 236 times
- ‘terrible’ appears 231 times
- ‘presidential’ appears 221 times
- ‘much’ appears 217 times
- ‘long’ appears 215 times
So as you can see, he doesn’t only insult. The first negative word, ‘fake’, is only the ninth most common, though more common than its antonyms ‘real’ and ‘true’, if they’re taken separately (‘false’ is in 72nd position, with 102 uses before nouns, while ‘genuine’ has only four uses.) And ‘illegal’ only slightly outdoes ‘nice’.
He also talks about American things a lot, which is not surprising given his location. ‘Russian’ comes in 111st place, with 62 uses, so about a tenth as many as ‘American’. As far as country adjectives go, ‘Iranian’ is next with 40 uses before nouns, then ‘Mexican’ with 39, and ‘Chinese’ with 37. ‘Islamic’ has 33. ‘Jewish’ and ‘White’ each have 27 uses as adjectives before nouns, though the latter is almost always describing a house rather than people. The next unequivocally racial (i.e. referring to a group of people rather than a specific region) adjective is ‘Hispanic’, with 25. I’m not an expert on what’s unequivocally racial, but I can tell you that ‘racial’ itself has nine adjectival uses before nouns, and ‘racist’ has three.
“But Angela,” I hear you not asking, “why are you showing us a list of words and numbers? Didn’t you just make an audiovisual word cloud generator a few months ago?” and the answer is, yes, indeed, I did make a word cloud generator that makes visual and audio word clouds, So here is an audiovisual word cloud of all the adjectives found at least twice before nouns in tweets by @realdonaldtrump in The Trump Twitter Archive, with Twitter usernames filtered out even if they are used as adjectives. More common words are larger and louder. Words are panned left or right so they can be more easily distinguished, so this is best heard in stereo.
There are some nouns in there, but they are only counted when used as attributive nouns to modify other nouns, e.g. ‘NATO countries’, or ‘ObamaCare website’.
I came upon a secret stash of free time, so I finally put finishing touches on the Siri Shortcuts I’d added to NastyWriter, made the app work properly in Dark Mode, added the latest gratuitous insults harvested from Twitter (I’ll write another post about how I did that), and released it. Then somebody pointed out something that still didn’t work in Dark Mode, so I fixed that and a few related things, and released it again. Thus NastyWriter’s version number (2.0.1) is the reverse of what it was before (1.0.2.)
I added Siri Shortcuts to NastyWriter soon after iOS 12 came out, just to learn a bit about them. You can add a shortcut with whatever text you’ve entered, and then run the shortcut whenever you like to get a freshly-nastified version of the same text.
There’s also a ‘Give me an insult’ shortcut (which you can find in the Shortcuts app) which just gives a random insult, surrounded by unpleasant emoji.
As I added these soon after iOS 12 came out, they don’t support parameters, which are new in iOS 13. I may work on that next, so you’ll be able to nastify text on the fly, or nastify the output from another shortcut as part of a longer workflow.
Since Tom Lehrer recently released all his music and lyrics into the public domain, I took this opportunity to update the screenshots of NastyWriter in the App Store to show Tom Lehrer’s song ‘She’s My Girl’ where they had previously shown Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18. You can read a full nastification of this on the NastyWriter tumblr.
I released a new version of NastyWriter today! It fixes the various bugs I found while posting nastified text every day on the NastyWriter Tumblr and Twitter, and some that other people kindly told me about. I also added new, all-natural insults sustainably gathered from the wild, and state restoration so you won’t risk losing what you were working on every time you switch to another app. Given how simple that was to implement, I am now even more annoyed at the many better-funded apps that don’t do it.
There are still a few issues that I’m aware of, but I decided the issues I’d already fixed were worse, so it was more important to get the fixes to them out. Anyway, check out the new app on the App Store, or if you like, read more about the bug fixes in this version on my company blog.
There are many important milestones in the life cycle of an iOS app. First beta, first release, hurried second release within hours of the first because something wasn’t set up right in the App Store, first download, first request for a version that runs on some other OS, first review, first angry bug report, first in-app purchase, first cent made from advertising revenue… but all of these pale in comparison to the first song. Because everything’s a song, and if NastyWriter is also a song, then it must be really quite something.
Here is Joey Marianer singing NastyWriter’s version of ‘There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly‘:
(Hopefully the video will be embedded above; the WordPress iPad app does not show it in the preview the way its web-based editor does.)
I’ve been publishing nastified versions of reasonably well-known texts daily on the NastyWriter Tumblr and Twitter (I abandoned the Instagram once I found out their app doesn’t work on iPad, but I have since discovered that even though their website doesn’t allow uploading on Mac, it does on iPad, so perhaps I’ll start posting there again.) So far there’s text from Shakespeare, Dickens, The Arrogant Worms, the App Store license agreement, CERN, the US Declaration of Independence, an Apple ad, The Beatles, NastyWriter’s description on the App Store, and of course the nursery rhyme sung above. I intend to keep publishing these daily, so follow the tumblr or Twitter if you don’t want to miss out on any. The Tumblr is open to submissions, so if you’ve made something fun with NastyWriter, please submit it.
I came across a few bugs in NastyWriter while creating these, but my Mac is still at the Apple Store being fixed, so I can’t fix the bugs yet. I hope to fix them in a way that doesn’t involve introducing additional bugs, birds, and assorted mammals. Here’s hoping the 71 unit tests and four or five UI tests help with that.
Also, while waiting for my Mac to come back, I’ve been posting a random rhyme or two every day on the Rhyme Science Twitter feed, so follow that if you want some poetic inspiration. Rhyme Science also has some nearly-finished features and bug fixes I’m looking forward to getting back to once I get my Mac back, although what I should be doing is finding more freelance work and/or a day job so I can afford to pay rent while doing these things. Want me to make something for you? My CV is over on my not-so-businesslike business site.
I’ve been writing Mac software for fun and occasional profit for decades, and freelancing writing an iOS app for use in-house, but don’t you think it’s about time I wrote an iOS app for the App Store?
Surprise! I just released one. It’s called NastyWriter, and it inserts insults before nouns as you type. I see people online who can barely mention people or things they don’t like without insulting them, and I figured I may as well automate that and have some fun with it. It’s always fun to play with natural language processing!
This was mostly an experiment, a learning exercise, and a way to feel better about applying for jobs which have ‘must have app in the App Store’ in the requirements. The experiment is to see how a silly free app with ads and an in-app purchase to turn off ads does, although James Thomson already ran that experiment so I don’t expect it to pay for very many kilos of rice.
The learning exercise was a huge success. I learnt many things, about natural language processing in macOS/iOS, about how many other things there are to think of that take much more effort than the actual adding-insults-before-nouns part, about how awesome automated testing is in a small project by a single person, about how testing accessibility can make flaws in the regular interface more apparent (I didn’t even realise dictation was broken until I tested with VoiceOver!), about the most common adjectives used directly before nouns in the Trump Twitter Archive (‘great’ outnumbers the next most common by about a factor of three), about fastlane, and about the App Store, AdMob and in-app purchases. I might write blog posts about those things later. Do any of these topics seem particular interesting to you?
However, hours after I submitted it, the ‘e’ key on my MacBook’s keyboard stopped working, and while it’s not one of those new butterfly switch keyboards that can apparently need replacing after seeing a speck of dust (or maybe it is? It’s a 2014 model), somehow it turns out that in addition to that my Mac’s battery is swollen and it’ll have to go to the Apple Store and have the battery and the whole keyboard part of the case replaced. This will make it rather difficult to tend to any serious issues in NastyWriter or write as much about it as I wanted to just yet. I can use my iPad (which I am currently typing this on) or, until the Mac goes into the shop, an external keyboard, but neither is quite as comfortable.
And since many people have asked: no, there is no Android version yet, but I’m freelancing and I like learning new things so I would be happy to write one iff somebody pays me to. It would be cheaper for you to buy an iOS device.
I might make a Mac version for fun, though!
I watched a speech by by Haben Girma yesterday, and as she was talking about making things accessible to people with disabilities and how that can lead to usefulness and innovations beyond accessibility, I decided to write a quick parody of James Blunt’s ‘Beautiful’ about accessibility. Here are the lyrics. They don’t always match the original tune exactly, but rather an approximation of it I have in my head from listening to parodies such as The Amateur Transplants’ Beautiful Song, Weird Al’s You’re Pitiful, and James Blunt’s own My Triangle. Feel free to come up with your own additions to include other aspects of accessibility or other things which could be more accessible.
My widget’s brilliant
My venue’s brilliant
Of that I’m sure
For all the people
I don’t ignore
I met someone who was different
And I knew I’d undershot
‘Cause I thought my plans were brilliant
and they were not
Accessible to all
To learn or say, in a different way
When one sense is essential
It makes sense to overhaul
So I fixed my stuff
It was not enough
I met more folk who tried and they still
found it tough
And I don’t think I can accommodate
But I have a goal now and I will innovate
Accessible to all
To simply manoeuvre, no matter how we move
Paralysed or pained or small
Still our movement shall not fall
la la la la…
Accessible to all
And the gains are shared with the unimpaired
Till there’s nothing that seems impossible
If you see, hear, feel the call
Make some tools; tear down a wall.
Of course, I can’t publish lyrics to a song about accessibility without mentioning The Accessibility Song by James Dempsey. If you didn’t like mine, try his, now also available along with his other songs about Cocoa development on iTunes:
I’ve actually seen the original song ‘Beautiful’ performed live, since I randomly went to a James Blunt concert with some co-workers the very first time I was in Vienna. However, even then, I did not really listen to the words. I did while writing this, and realised just how weird and creepy it is. The protagonist is not telling his partner she’s beautiful, as a casual listener might assume, but rather singing to a woman he caught a glimpse of once on a train as if she were some great lost love, despite the fact that they never spoke to each other and she was already involved with someone. It’s essentially Jackson Park Express, presented as a romantic short film rather than a feature-length comedy. With songs like this out there, no wonder random guys on the street sometimes think they can follow me home!
Unrelated to all this, Joey Marianer has once again sung some words I wrote! This time it’s A Few Things You’ll Need for the Cruise, slightly changed to be about the fact that there was, at the time of publishing, exactly one month until JoCo Cruise 2018. There is now less than a month, but still room for you to join us!
I’ve made a new version of Haiku Detector. The main changes are:
- Performance improvements
- Tweaks to which haiku are identified when punctuation is pronounced differently depending on line breaks and other factors (this includes a workaround for the ‘all numbers pronounced as zero’ bug I found in the speech synthesiser.) In my test data the list of haiku identified is better now.
- Bug fixes.
To celebrate the new release, I fed in the text from the latest New Scientist ‘Collection’ issue, on medical frontiers. The funniest haiku arose when the last sentence of one article joined up with the headline and byline of the next. For example, this looks like the tagline of a movie about an underappreciated superhero, fighting to save anti-vaxxers from diseases of yore:
They will not thank you.
Dan Jones FIGHTING INFECTION
Small shot, big impact
After the opening credits, we see our hero Dan Jones in his lab, and the subtitle announcing his first challenge.
SOURCE: Deathstalker scorpion
His superpowers come, of course, from vaccines:
Some vaccines seem to
provide us with a host of
But not everybody is happy with that:
Several groups have been
trying to develop drugs
that block these signals.
These groups spread propaganda:
Half an hour or
so later, you’ll feel a lot
better. Or will you?
They work around rules:
“Because we use cells,
not field-grown plants, we don’t come
under the same rules.”
And they target humanity by zapping the very microorganisms they’re made up of. Here’s a quote from the evil mastermind:
There are more cells in
your body than there are stars
in the galaxy.
These cells can then be
killed using a laser that
penetrates the skin.
And just when Dan thought he had the solution, the problems compounded to the point of suspension of disbelief, precipitating a crisis. The mastermind had cooked up her own microbial minions:
Those microbes can be
in the environment or
a vaccine syringe.
To make matters worse,
there is a shortage of new
The sequel, which may or may not be a Doctor Who crossover, features a heroine who will live forever:
“Just endless.” Helen
Let’s get physical
Yep, it’s definitely a Doctor Who crossover. Here’s a quote from that movie:
“I’m the doctor. I’m
going to tell you what your
feelings really mean.”
She discovered that time, and specifically time travel, is the best cure for a broken heart:
If we can’t fix hearts
with stem cells there might be an
even better way
As the animal
was slowly warmed, it began
to return to life.
But however clever the TARDIS is, there’s one thing Helen Thomson isn’t sure she can do:
But can we ever
turn the clock back to a world
It turned out, weirdly enough, that the answer was in making sure there was enough shelf space for one’s awards. So she went home to Britain to save the Officers of the British Empire:
On her return home,
she applied those lessons in
So far, two patients
have had OBEs, but neither in
a room with a shelf…
While we’re making sequels, let’s revive an old favourite, which never had any sequels:
The matrix holds a
dazzling array of future
But what is the matrix?
is harvested from human
or pig cadavers.
I guess you have to see it for yourself.
I subjected Haiku Detector to some serious stress-testing with a 29MB text file (that’s 671481 sentences, containing 16810 haiku, of which some are intentional) a few days ago, and kept finding more things that needed fixing or could do with improvement. A few days in a nerdsniped daze later, I have a new version, and some interesting tidbits about the way Mac speech synthesis pronounces things. Here’s some of what I did:
- Tweaked the user interface a bit, partly to improve responsiveness after 10000 or so haiku have been found.
- Made the list of haiku stay scrolled to the bottom so you can see the new ones as they’re found.
- Added a progress bar instead of the spinner that was there before.
- Fixed a memory issue.
- Changed a setting so it should work in Mac OS X 10.6, as I said here it would, but I didn’t have a 10.6 system to test it on, and it turns out it does not run on one. I think 10.7 (Lion) is the lowest version it will run on.
- Added some example text on startup so that it’s easier to know what to do.
- Made it a Developer ID signed application, because now that I have a bit more time to do Mac development (since I don’t have a day job; would you like to hire me?), it was worth signing up to the paid Mac Developer Program again. Once I get an icon for Haiku Detector, I’ll put it on the app store.
- Fixed a few bugs and made a few other changes relating to how syllables are counted, which lines certain punctuation goes on, and which things are counted as haiku.
That last item is more difficult than you’d think, because the Mac speech synthesis engine (which I use to count syllables for Haiku Detector) is very clever, and pronounces words differently depending on context and punctuation. Going through words until the right number of syllables for a given line of the haiku are reached can produce different results depending on which punctuation you keep, and a sentence or group of sentences which is pronounced with 17 syllables as a whole might not have words in it which add up to 17 syllables, or it might, but only if you keep a given punctuation mark at the start of one line or the end of the previous. There are therefore many cases where the speech synthesis says the syllable count of each line is wrong but the sum of the words is correct, or vice versa, and I had to make some decisions on which of those to keep. I’ve made better decisions in this version than the last one, but I may well change things in the next version if it gives better results.
Here are some interesting examples of words which are pronounced differently depending on punctuation or context:
|ooohh||Pronounced with one syllable, as you would expect|
|ooohh.||Pronounced with one syllable, as you would expect|
|ooohh..||Spelled out (Oh oh oh aitch aitch)|
|ooohh…||Pronounced with one syllable, as you would expect|
|H H||Pronounced aitch aitch|
|H H H||Pronounced aitch aitch aitch|
|H H H H H H H H||Pronounced aitch aitch aitch|
|Da-da-de-de-da||Pronounced with five syllables, roughly as you would expect|
|Da-da-de-de-da-||Pronounced dee-ay-dash-di-dash-di-dash-di-dash-di-dash. The dashes are pronounced for anything with hyphens in it that also ends in a hyphen, despite the fact that when splitting Da-da-de-de-da-de-da-de-da-de-da-de-da-da-de-da-da into a haiku, it’s correct punctuation to leave the hyphen at the end of the line:
Though in a different context, where – is a minus sign, and meant to be pronounced, it might need to go at the start of the next line. Greater-than and less-than signs have the same ambiguity, as they are not pronounced when they surround a single word as in an html tag, but are if they are unmatched or surround multiple words separated by spaces. Incidentally, surrounding da-da in angle brackets causes the dash to be pronounced where it otherwise wouldn’t be.
|U.S or u.s||Pronounced you dot es (this way, domain names such as angelastic.com are pronounced correctly.)|
|U.S. or u.s.||Pronounced you es|
|US||Pronounced you es, unless in a capitalised sentence such as ‘TAKE US AWAY’, where it’s pronounced ‘us’|
I also discovered what I’m pretty sure is a bug, and I’ve reported it to Apple. If two carriage returns (not newlines) are followed by any integer, then a dot, then a space, the number is pronounced ‘zero’ no matter what it is. You can try it with this file; download the file, open it in TextEdit, select the entire text of the file, then go to the Edit menu, Speech submenu, and choose ‘Start Speaking’. Quite a few haiku were missed or spuriously found due to that bug, but I happened to find it when trimming out harmless whitespace.
Apart from that bug, it’s all very clever. Note how even without the correct punctuation, it pronounces the ‘dr’s and ‘st’s in this sentence correctly:
the dr who lives on rodeo dr who is better than the dr I met on the st john’s st turnpike
However, it pronounces the second ‘st’ as ‘saint’ in the following:
the dr who lives on rodeo dr who is better than the dr I met in the st john’s st john
This is not just because it knows there is a saint called John; strangely enough, it also gets this one wrong:
the dr who lives on rodeo dr who is better than the dr I met in the st john’s st park
I could play with this all day, or all night, and indeed I have for the last couple of days, but now it’s your turn. Download the new Haiku Detector and paste your favourite novels, theses, holy texts or discussion threads into it.
If you don’t have a Mac, you’ll have to make do with a few more haiku from the New Scientist special issue on the brain which I mentioned in the last post:
Being a baby
is like paying attention
with most of our brain.
But that doesn’t mean
there isn’t a sex difference
in the brain,” he says.
They may even be
a different kind of cell that
just looks similar.
It is easy to
see how the mind and the brain
We like to think of
ourselves as rational and
It didn’t seem to
matter that the content of
these dreams was obtuse.
I’d like to thank the people of the xkcd Time discussion thread for writing so much in so many strange ways, and especially Sciscitor for exporting the entire thread as text. It was the test data set that kept on giving.