Tuesday, July 01, 2008

warning: this blog post failed to pbutt the profanity filter and has been rebreastled

Here's an amusing article highlighting the difficulties of automated text-editing, in this case to change every instance of the nice cuddly term "gay" to the more judgmental "homosexual" to better reflect your loony religious right-wing agenda. Trouble is that when the article in question refers to American sprinter Tyson Gay things start to get a bit tricky. Although Tyson Homosexual is quite a cool name, in a weird sort of way. What next? References to Enola Homosexual dropping the first atomic bomb? A nice tot of Mount Homosexual Rum?

This, of course, is a specific example of a problem well-known to those in the computing industry, which is how to get computers to perform operations on text without making what seem to the human eye to be obvious mistakes, computers being, contrary to their usual portrayal in films, phenomenally stupid. This makes writing reliable obscenity filters (see the Scunthorpe Problem) and spell-checkers (see the Cupertino Effect) very difficult. Further amusing examples can be found in this Daily WTF article and the comments following it. You can have fun imagining news headlines after being passed through these sort of filters: JFK buttbuttinated in Dallas: Johnson buttumes Presidency to avoid Consbreastutional crisis.

The other classic example of search & replace ham-fistedness is the immortal phrase "cdesign proponentsists" which exposed the religious fundamentalists' hilariously half-arsed attempt to rebadge creationism as "intelligent design" and thereby shoehorn it into school science lessons. Following on from the epic pwnage described here it's worth reflecting on the full-scale, trousers-down arse-spanking the loons got in court when they tried this on before. Which is no guarantee they won't chug down a few chalices of communion wine and march forth to do it again some time in the future. "The price of liberty is constant vigilance", as Eleanor Roosevelt (supposedly) said. Then again she also said: "A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water", so make your own mind up.

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