Spellcheckers Offer Odd Alternatives
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Mon, 17 Jun 96 17:53:25 -0700
Subject: Spellcheckers Offer Odd Alternatives
Forwarded-by: Gregg Porter
Spellcheckers Offer Odd Alternatives
by Alan R. Peterson
for: Radio World (RW) Vol 20, No.12 6/12/96
(c) 1996 by Industrial Marketing Advisory Services
WASHINGTON Most of you know my previous RW column, From the Trenches. It
began in July 1989, on an electric Smith-Corona, blotchy from six years of
White-Out dripped all over it.
THE OLD DAYS
Plain old paper was sent through the plain old mail service every
deadline. If I was running late, the local office supply superstore would
fax it for two bucks.
While working at WSBS(AM) in Great Barrington, Mass., I used their fax
machine to send Trench each month, but I had to reimburse them for the
Then I was given a free XT computer and some inexpensive word-processor
software. Then came a 386-40 PC and semi-pro word-processing program. Faxes
gave way to mailed diskettes, then to transmissions over the Internet.
Finally, I just moved myself right into the RW office to claim my own desk
and computer. At least I knew my material would get here on time.
One thing I did not expect to encounter was the spellchecker I inherited
at my new post.
The philosophy behind a spellchecker is to avoid losing valuable company
time flipping through a silly dictionary.
To their credit, spellcheckers have saved my can dozens of times. They
have rescued me when I wrote commercials, assembled weekend newscasts and
outlined my show prep.
But these checkers only catch simple everyday words. When a conventional
spellchecker encounters an unfamiliar technical term, things turn silly very
I recently did an RW review on a mixer built by Mackie Designs. It was
only moderately technical, as I chose to concentrate mostly on new features
and uses for it. But a few words were in there that my spellchecker had
never seen before, which made it offer up some creative substitutions.
For one, the name "Mackie." My spellchecker suggested replacing it with
macho ... much to the delight of Greg Mackie, I am sure.
But his delight will be short-lived; spellchecker also suggested mice,
among the other alternatives. In fact, take a passage such as this:
Like earlier Yamaha and Teac mixers, the new Mackie comes with
linear faders. Each fader is sealed and the unit does not use
a wallwart. Greg Mackie borrowed EQs from his old Tapco mixer
to make it compatible with PC-based DAWs. When using a codec at
remotes, Mackie makes a great mixer for mics.
The above statement is by no means accurate but certainly sounds
plausible. Now read it again after I cut my spellchecker loose on it.
Like earlier Omaha and Tweak mixers, the new Mucky comes with
linear fedoras. Each footwear is sealed and the unit does not
use a Woolworth. Greg Macho borrowed yolks from his old Taco
mixer to make it compatible with PC-based doghouse. When using
a chaotic at rhomboids, Milk makes a great mixer for mucous.
STARTING A SOY DIET
I am not making this up. My spellchecker actually suggested these as
alternatives. It also compelled me to swear off dairy products for
Try this one. Again, the passage is fabricated but the reaction from the
spellchecker certainly makes the story a great deal more interesting:
When doing a mixdown of promos, avoid making the audio too
boomy. Putting dubs on a Sony DAT requires only a few
milliwatts from your Arrakis console.
Now, press CTRL+F2 on the keyboard, and what happens to the story? Take
When doing a moisten of preemies, avoid making the audio too
boozy. Putting dubs on a Soy Diet requires only a few melodies
from your earaches console.
Should I be worried about this? Not at all. Because spellcheckers only
suggest substitutions, the decision to replace or ignore an alternative is
ultimately mine. The real time to worry is when the PC at the station
decides to make the changes by itself.
This can certainly have disastrous effects if an automatic
spellchecker"proofreads" your newscast for you and changes the copy before
you hit the air. Take this bogus news brief:
Saddam Hussein's movements were tracked by allied forces using GPS
satellites, Satcom 1R, the Hubble Telescope, and Mir Space Station.
You don't buy this story for a minute, do you? But let the station
computer get a hold of it seconds before airtime and you will treat your
Sodium Houston's movements were tracked by allied forces using gas
satellites, Sitcom 1R, the Humble Telescope, and Mayor Space Station.
Hmm ... Sodium Houston ... Loved her last album.
WHEN MACHINES TALK
Given the momentum of computerized station automation, we may yet see the
day when we can type copy into a machine and a digitized human voice will
read it back as a live spot. I for one am not looking forward to that day,
but imagine the fun when the following tag is entered into the computer:
Test-drive the all-new 1996 Mazda Miata with optional ABS brakes
at your nearby Mazda dealer today!
Er, did somebody say "spellcheck?"
Test-drive the all-new 1996 Musty Meaty with optional obese
brakes at your nearby Misty dealer today!
When you are done explaining to the screaming manager at the dealership
why the tag aired like that, come on back to the station. I'll have the hard
disk system play Musty for you.
[I smell a rat... This spell checker is so smart it "corrects" the same
mistake into different words (e.g. Mazda => Musty & Mazda => Misty). Such a
technique is guaranteed to fail, even Microsoft wouldn't... hmmmm ... I
suppose that would allow you to sell a revised version later... Okay...
Nevermind... silly me. -psl]
© 1996 Peter Langston