The right to forget, or, that one terrible road stop

I predict that soon the conversation will turn from the right to be forgotten to the right to forget.

Why so? Well, now Google Maps now tries to remember places I’ve been and include them in the maps it shows me. The trouble with this (ignoring any petty privacy, commercialisation, misc concerns you may be about to mention to me) is that there are some places that should be forgotten. In particular, all of Western Sydney’s commerce is now represented to me by one service station that we stopped at on a family trip because someone needed to use the loo, but couldn’t, because its loo was splattered with largely unspecified bodily fluids.

Get it together Google! This is even worse than the way my Youtube suggestions are now and forever filled with Thomas the Tank Engine videos because of an unfortunate and lengthy phase my son went through. I insist on not navigating Sydney in future primarily in terms of which horrible public toilet I am nearest.


Single Sign-On: stretching the definition

Condensed from my twitter earlier today, with reference to using the single sign-on service to log into Medicare Online Services:

So accessing Medicare through single sign-on involves user name, password, 2 (of 5) secret questions, 2 (of 5 total) separate Medicare Online secret questions, Medicare card number, Medicare card reference number, suburb and postcode. I don’t call that “single sign on”. Oh, and agreeing to Medicare Online T&Cs even if agreed to in a previous session 15 minutes ago.

On the other hand, if you’d like to impersonate me on the phone to Medicare, all the info you need is on my Medicare card and my driver’s licence.

Did I miss the Amara memo? Easy subtitling!

Amara (Universal Subtitles) is great stuff! Apologies to everyone for whom it is old news: I had heard of it before but not bothered to check it out, assuming it would be super-hard and fiddly. I really didn’t find it so.

How it works: you find a video on a popular video website (Youtube, Vimeo, Dailymotion, or several codecs downloaded directly for that matter) that doesn’t have subtitles. You submit the URL into the Amara website and a tool opens up that lets you enter subtitles for the video, in three steps:

  1. type in all the subtitles a line at a time as you pause and restart the video (assuming you need to, professional closed captioners may not need to)
  2. sync the subtitles with the speech (by pressing a single key every time it’s time to start a new subtitle)
  3. review and publish

I am especially amazed at how easy it is to get a good-enough (I think?) sync of subtitle and speech when playing the video at full speed and just hitting the down arrow to advance to the next subtitle. Amara also provides embed codes that allow you to embed their subtitles with the original video in another webpage, which is crucial because I want to embed videos more often than I want to link to them. Finally, you can pull your subtitles out afterwards in text format, which means you can create a more complete transcript for separate publication.

Last of all, it is not a for-profit enterprise, it is a product of the Participatory Culture Foundation and the Amara code is itself open source. So it is not hostage to a commercial motive but is genuinely created with the central motive of providing more subtitled video on the web.

It does have some limitations: most noticeably for me, the controls over rewinding are a bit coarse-grained (go back 4 seconds and… that’s about it) and they don’t seem to have a facility for slowing the video down, which can help me transcribe fast speech.

They have a short introduction video about themselves (subtitled!):

{“video_url”: “”}

As a demonstration of what user subtitled content looks like, here’s a subtitled version (not by me) of Karen Sandler’s keynote at 2012, about medical devices and source code (in her case, trying to get the source code of her pacemaker):

{“video_url”: “”}

The text version of the subtitles is also available.

Why subtitle stuff? You can provide a translation into other languages, as most people are familiar with. But subtitling things into the written form of the language they’re spoken in is also very useful. Several reasons:

  • it makes the video accessible to hearing-impaired people;
  • it makes the video accessible to anyone who can’t listen to the sound right at that second; and
  • the existance of the text version of the subtitles makes the video at least more accessible to readers who can’t watch video or don’t have time to.

Name fields and UI

The AdaCamp Melbourne application form began with two fields: Your Name and Your Email. Seems fair enough! An unanticipated problem a few people have had with the forms is that they have entered “Your Given Name” and “Your Surname” instead, presumably trained to do this by umpteen million sites that want data entered that way. This leaves us with no email for them.

I don’t think the solution is to go with the flow, it buys into Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names and the only thing it would get AdaCamp is the more-or-less correct alphabetising of the attendee list. (Only more-or-less correct: not only do given-surname name orderings vary among two-or-more-name cultures, so does the sort key, see eg Wikipedia’s manual instructing editors to sort Thai people by their given name.) But since we have no need to alphabetise the attendee list, it’s fine.

The best solution, I think, is to perform email address validation, which has its own problems (eg many validators use “is there a dot in the domain part?” which annoys the lucky people who have an email account at a top level domain no end) but gives us what we really need: a way to contact applicants!