or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Screen Play

I used to write software. I used to get paid for it, too. I once wrote chatroom software, the sort of thing in which people post messages and other people respond to them, and of course the person in charge didn't want people cussing and ruining the ambiance, so I wrote a filter, too. Tricky things, filters: you might want the word "ass" to show up as "a**", but you don't want the word "passage" to come out as "pa**age", because that makes you look like an idiot. If someone is talking about breeding dogs, then "bitch" might well be acceptable, and the coder has to take that thing into account, so the software can't just convert every instance of a particular string of letters into something else (unless the string is unambiguous, like "fuck"); it has to be written with some intelligence.

That was in short supply at the American Family Association's news website, where this summer they famously installed a filter that, among other things, converted "gay" to "homosexual", because the fine folks at the AFA thought that "gay" made it sound acceptable and not monstrous. Unfortunately, when a sports story reported that one Tyson Homosexual had run a particularly good race en route to the Olympics, the AFA was rightly lambasted for being a crowd of bowdlerizing dimwits who don't trust people to think for themselves.

The iTunes Music Store goes through a fair bit of trouble to be unobjectionable; songs with explicit lyrics are carefully labelled. But the store has a filter, too, and it's pretty badly written, leading to things like this, from the description of the movie "Paycheck" (you'll probably need to click on it to be able to read it):

Yeah, that famous author Philip K. Dasteriskasteriskasterisk. I've read a bunch of his stuff.

Doing a search for "Dick Clark" gives us this:

This is actually worse, though. I think you can guess what the search term is:

If you agree that iTunes shouldn't be telling people what to listen to (not everybody does), you can still concede that they have the right, and probably even the responsibility, to be blotting out parts of track titles like "Keep On Fuckin'" and "Worthless Cunt". But to unthinkingly pixelize the title of Edward Lear's "The Owl and the Pussycat" is ludicrous. Some software engineer needs to take a good long look at that filter.


Blogger Grant Barrett said...

How do you invoke the filter? I don't get any of those results when searching in iTunes--not asterisks anywhere. I'm in New York, accessing what I presume to be the American version of iTunes Store.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008 11:17:00 AM  

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