Previous “Apple” posts

More on Siri and Numerical Days of the Year

Wednesday, May 15th, 2019

When writing about Siri and the Kilomile last week, I noted some strange and useless responses the virtual assistant provided when trying to determine what numerical day of the year it was. Shortly thereafter, I received multiple replies from folks who noted that at least my last query (“How many days until 2020?”) worked for them. I don’t know what changed on the Siri side since my first tests, but this does indeed work for me as well:

Answer: It's two hundred thirty one days until then.

With this answer, we’re at least getting somewhere in the quest to determine what numerical day of the year it is. If we take 365 days and subtract that answer of 231, we get 134. Today (May 15th, 2019) is actually the 135th day of the year, so perhaps Siri isn’t counting today in this. We have to add 1 at the end (or subtract from 366), but we can at least use this to work out the answer we want.

Having finally gotten something useful from Siri, I set out to see if there was an easier method. First, I again tested the real head scratcher from my first post. Regardless of the day of the year, when asked “How many days are left in this year?”, Siri thinks there are three hundred sixty-four days left. That issue persists:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days.

Experimenting further revealed additional problems. I got another weird reply when I asked “How many days into 2019 are we?”:

Answer: It's two hundred thirty days until then.

This phrasing seems to indicate Siri is still living in 2018. On a hunch, I then asked “How many days from 2020 are we?”, and got this:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days.

A quick check reveals that this was the exact number of days from 2020 on May 15th, 2018. Why is Siri living in the past? What sort of off-by-one error have we hit?

Eventually, however, I figured out the exact right question to ask. Reader Michael L. put me on the right path, suggesting “How many days since the first of the year?”

Answer: It was one hundred thirty-four days ago.

This is very close, and doesn’t require subtracting from 365. Still, it’s off by one day, requiring us to remember to add one. What if we instead ask “How many days since December 31st, 2018?”:

Answer: It was one hundred thirty-five days ago.

Success! This gives us today’s numerical day, with no additional math required.

It’s good to know that Siri is indeed capable of doing calendar math. Now the trick is remembering how exactly to ask this question to avoid multiple different weird or wrong answers.

Siri and the Kilomile

Friday, May 10th, 2019

When I first took up serious distance running in 2001, I also began a log of each of my runs. I first measured my routes ahead of time by driving them with a car, and later with tools like MilerMeter (formerly GMap-Pedometer). Much more recently, the Apple Watch’s GPS has made it especially easy to know how far I’ve run, with no manual measuring required. At some point in the past few years, I also created an ongoing tally of my lifetime distance run.1

Obviously, I’m a nerd for running data. So I was amused when I learned about the distinctly non-metric measurement called the “kilomile”. A kilomile is simply a thousand miles, and while I’ve run almost seven of those in my adult life, friend-of-the-site Kelan C. managed an entire kilomile in just the year of 2018 alone.

Reviewing my running logs, which of course include annual totals, I saw that I had just missed a kilomile in the year 2017. That year I ran 980.4 miles, and if I’d known how close I was, I’d certainly have gotten off my ass a few more times in December. In 2019, I decided I’d conquer this goofy goal.

Once I began this effort, I soon found myself repeatedly checking my progress. To do that, I just need to know what number day of the year it is, then multiple that by the ~2.74 miles2 I need to average each day. That tells me what my total distance so far should be. For example, if I’ve run at least 27.4 miles by January 10th, I’m on or ahead of pace. Simple.

But why keep things simple, when one can instead make an overly-involved spreadsheet? I wanted to see more exact numbers, and also avoid repeating the same calculations constantly. Here’s a quick look at what I came up with:


I’m slightly behind schedule, but I remain confident.

The biggest issue with this is that we don’t generally know what number day of the year it is. Thankfully, that’s where computers can help. Calendar math is the foundation of lots of computer code, and it’s simple for machines to do. A Google search will get you to a site like EpochConverter which tells you that May 10th is the 130th day of the year. And surely my helpful virtual assistant Siri can tell me as well, right?

Long-time readers likely already know the answer to the above question. Some of the most popular posts on this site have covered the failings of Apple’s virtual assistant. From callousness, to over-promising and under-delivering, to outright sexism, Siri has had its issues.3

And yet, for some reason, I continue to try to make Siri work for me. It has improved over time, and because it’s always being updated, hope springs eternal. Maybe it shouldn’t though. Please enjoy this a story of futility in three images.

A Story of Futility in Three Images

First I asked Siri “What day of the year is it?”:

Answer: It's Monday, May 6, 2019

OK, that’s accurate enough, even if it’s not what I was after.

Next, I tried to get what I was after by some basic math, by asking “How many days are left in this year?”:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days

I…uh…what?! This answer could only make sense in very early January, yet it seems to be the standard response to this question, no matter when it’s asked. Try it yourself.

Finally, I tried asking a very specific question: “How many days until 2020?”:

Answer: It's three hundred sixty-four days

Can’t, or won’t, Siri?

Compared to some of the previous failings I’ve noted, this one is somewhat obscure. Still, that second answer really got to me. Siri ought to be able to do this basic calendar math, but if it can’t, it certainly shouldn’t provide that kind of nonsense.

Update (May 15th, 2019): Don’t miss the follow-up post, “More on Siri and Numerical Days of the Year”.


Footnotes:

  1. 6,954.61 miles and counting! ↩︎

  2. That’s 1000 miles / 365 days, to get exactly 2.739726027 miles per day. I’m comfortable rounding up, because 0.000273973 miles is about a foot and a half.↩︎

  3. Early on, I referred Siri with feminine pronouns, as it had only one female voice. More recently, I’ve taken to calling Siri “it”, both because it has male and female voices, and because it of course doesn’t actually have a gender. ↩︎

Lousy Emoji Suggestions

Thursday, November 15th, 2018

Since 2016’s release iOS 10, the Messages app on the iPhone has been able to make suggestions to replace text with emoji.


Emoji suggestions for “Happy”, “Sad”, and “Dog”

These are all perfectly cromulent suggestions, and this is a vaguely useful feature, or at least a vaguely enjoyable one. However, I recently noticed that iOS was giving some very flawed suggestions. It started, as these things so often do, with the word “squirrel”.

When typing the word “squirrel”, iOS suggests this:

Upon spotting this, I initially thought “that’s not a squirrel, it’s a chipmunk”. And indeed, a bit of research showed me that the official Unicode 7.0 spec lists the character in question (U+1F43F) as “CHIPMUNK”. Despite that fact, iOS is treating it as interchangeable with the word “squirrel”, which seems flat-out wrong.

Now you can call me old-fashioned, but before leaning in to my outrage, I wanted to be sure of my facts. While the tremendously common Eastern gray squirrel is monochromatic, I had to consider the possibility that some squirrels may indeed have stripes. It turns out that’s the case, and there are indeed ground squirrels that have stripes. Here’s a comparison provided by NatureMapping:

At a glance, it seems obvious that the chipmunk emoji could also substitute for the golden-mantled ground squirrel. However! The aforelinked page informs us that while chipmunks and ground squirrels are both striped, ground squirrels “look similar to chipmunks, but do not have stripes on the head”. Let’s take a closer look at the 🐿️ emoji in question. Enhance:

Enhance…

Enhance!

Oo, that’s a bingo! We’ve got head stripes, which means that’s a chipmunk, not a squirrel. Come on, Apple. Until we get a proper squirrel emoji, you simply need to not suggest any replacement for that word.

When I first spotted this, I thought it was just an amusing one-off. However, it wasn’t long before I saw another problem. While typing the word “sluggish”, I got this suggestion:

OK, come on! Even at the tiniest size, it’s clear that that is a snail, with a massive shell. That’s the biggest difference between a slug and a snail! Here’s the very first paragraph from the Wikipedia entry for slug:

Slug, or land slug, is a common name for any apparently shell-less terrestrial gastropod mollusc. The word slug is also often used as part of the common name of any gastropod mollusc that has no shell, a very reduced shell, or only a small internal shell, particularly sea slugs and semislugs (this is in contrast to the common name snail, which applies to gastropods that have a coiled shell large enough that the animal can fully retract its soft parts into the shell).

That makes at least two cases where Apple’s emoji suggest feature is missing the mark. The emoji set is of course incomplete, and always will be. But as it gets larger and more specific, it becomes ever more ridiculous to suggest we substitute in entirely different animals. We all look like idiots here, Apple.

Still, at least we don’t look as ridiculous as this emoji snail. Snails are weird, man.

I’d Love to Read the Internal Bug Report for This One 

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Good news, everyone! In the latest iOS 12.1 betas, Apple has updated the bagel emoji. Last week’s version was monstrously bad. It has now been upgraded to merely “very bad”.

Californians Don’t Know From Bagels 

Friday, October 12th, 2018

Yesterday’s post featured a quality real-world baked reproduction of a logo. Today, we have a terrible digital representation of a baked good. Shield the eyes of your children from the worst image I’ve posted since Gritty.

Apple's awful bagel emoji

Grubstreet has dissected this image, and they’re correct that it looks like a lousy machine-cut monstrosity. But like a duck/rabbit optical illusion, when I look at this, I can also see one whole bagel on top of half of a much larger bagel. No matter what, it’s all awful.

Siri Finally Understands “Gazpacho”

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

Over six years ago, I wrote about the iPhone’s hilarious inability to replicate Apple’s commercial touting Siri’s functionality. Ever since, I’ve occasionally tested against the Samuel L. Jackson-inspired phrase, “Remind me to put the gazpacho on ice in an hour”. As far as I can recall, it’s never worked.

That all changed yesterday, when I ran the test again:

Finally.

An Apple Watch Makes a Great Gift for the Nerdy Cokehead in Your Life 

Monday, July 16th, 2018

I suppose using a smartwatch or other gadget to monitor the results of your drug usage does meet the literal definition of “activity tracking”.

Stop Being Sexist, Siri

Monday, April 2nd, 2018

Before the 2015-2016 season, women’s NCAA basketball games switched from two 20 minute halves to four 10 minute quarters. For two entire seasons, Siri was utterly oblivious to this fact. In 2018, the digital assistant finally seems to have been updated, no longer thinking every single game consists of two halves and two overtimes. That’s a step in the right direction.

Unfortunately, there are still many improvements to be made. While attempting to check in on yesterday’s women’s NCAA championship game between Notre Dame and Mississippi State, I was confronted with this:

Screenshot showing a Notre Dame vs. Penn State game played on March 17th

I was initially flummoxed by this result, but with a bit of research I realized this was the men’s team’s last game of the season.1 It was played back in March, in the National Invitation Tournament, and it was also most decidedly not what I was looking for.

Look, men’s sports are undeniably more popular than women’s sports. Given that, if both the men’s and women’s teams were playing at the same time, it might be reasonable to default to the men’s game.2 This, however, is simply ridiculous. Rather than showing what is likely the single most popular women’s college event (the championship game of the women’s basketball tournament), Siri is instead showing a fifteen day old men’s game from the second-rate NIT.

It wasn’t a matter of ignorance, either, as Siri certainly was aware of the game. Once I asked specifically about the women’s contest, Siri had no trouble providing a detailed look, including a handy link to watch live:

Screenshot showing the correct game, after a more specific request

The obvious problem lies in the assumption that asking about a school means asking about the men’s sports teams, even if that team hasn’t played in over two weeks. The Notre Dame women’s team eventually overcame a double-digit deficit to win the game in thrilling fashion. They’re now national champions, yet Siri barely acknowledges they exist. Even now, asking for the “Notre Dame score” will lead Siri to tell you about a fairly meaningless loss, rather than the women’s dramatic comeback to win it all.

Be better than this, Apple.

Update (April 3rd, 2018): In a follow-up to this post, I tested other virtual assistants as well. For the most part, they did not fare well.


Footnotes:

  1. Amusingly, this was not a double overtime game. After scratching my head at the box score, I realized they must have been playing quarters. Sure enough, the NCAA is experimenting with having the men play quarters as well. As a result, some men’s games are now affected by the same issue that plagued women’s games for two years. Testing of quarters began in the NIT last year, so by 2019, Apple might be aware of it. ↩︎

  2. Even then, a better option would be to clarify which game was desired. ↩︎

Return of the Apple Dumbwatch

Wednesday, February 7th, 2018

Back in November, I posted about the frustratingly buggy behavior of my Apple dumbwatch. The watch seemed to sort itself out shortly after I publicly shamed it, but a scant three months later, it’s up to its old tricks again. Just after midnight today, February 7th, I received this alert on the watch:

Apple Watch alert titled 'January Challege' and saying I have 15927 calories to go
Note the title

Scrolling down, I saw this:

Apple Watch alert showing 2/2018
As yes, the second month of the year, January

I immediately hopped over to my phone to check the Activity app there. It was similarly confused:

Activity app reading 'January Challege' showing a total of 19874 calores I need to burn, and 3939 burned so far.
All in one handy/ridiculous screen

You might charitably assume there’s an off-by-one error here causing Activity to think the second month of 2018 is January. However, if you look closer and do some simple math, you can spot another issue.

19,874 calories needed to burn – 3,939 calories burned so far = 15,935 calories left to burn. Yet if you scroll back up to look at what the watch told me, you’ll see it suggested I needed to burn 15,927 more calories. If I stop there, I’ll actually wind up 8 calories short.

In other words? Go home, Apple Watch, you are drunk.

O-H-A�-O 

Tuesday, November 14th, 2017

iOS 11.1 had a bizarre bug where typing “I” (a capital letter eye) got replaced with a mangled character, “A�”. The popularity of the iPhone meant that this odd text spread around the internet rapidly. Apple has since fixed the issue, but thanks to Ohio State football fans, it managed to make an appearance in the real world.