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(San)deep's World. Wise observations from Prof. Sandeep Krishnamurthy, Associate Professor of Marketing and E-Commerce, author, educator, Dad, coach, racquetball player, evangelist, speaker and thinker.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Bill Gates says "irregardless"

My dear colleague, Prof. Karen Brown, reports-

In an NPR interview this morning, Bill Gates said the word "irregardless." Clearly, with this sort of direction from the top, it is no wonder Microsoft is producing the kinds of problems Sandeep has discovered with the grammar check function in MS Word.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The New Statesman has posted a wonderful story about my GrammarCheck adventure.

How to improve Jane Austen: Observations on the grammar check. By William Skidelsky

William Skidelsky

What many people have long suspected has been confirmed: Microsoft's grammar check is indeed virtually useless. Sandeep Krishnamurthy, a professor at the University of Washington, tested hundreds of examples of bad writing. Among the sentences deemed grammatical were: "Marketing are bad for brand big and small", "Gates do good marketing job in Microsoft" and "I am agree with what the article say".

Krishnamurthy began his investigations when a student turned in a "poorly written report" that had been judged error-free. For some students, Microsoft's tool appears to have acquired an absolute authority: if a piece of writing passes the check, then it must be OK.

Microsoft argues that the grammar checker is intended as a writing aid rather than a catch-all, and that it is "designed to catch the kinds of errors that ordinary users make in normal writing situations". Yet if it cannot determine something as basic as whether a verb agrees, it is hard to see how it can perform even this function.

I tested the check using Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The first sentence - "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" - might have read slightly differently if Microsoft Word had existed in Austen's day. Apparently, the comma after "acknowledged" is ungrammatical. Equally unacceptable is the first sentence of Emma: "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly 21 years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." Here, the check recommends replacing the infinitive "vex" with "vexes". Henry James's prose is famously complex, and sure enough, the third sentence of The Europeans - which describes "a lady who stood looking out of one of the windows of the best hotel in the ancient city of Boston" - is wrong on account of the word "lady" being "gender-specific". "Woman" or "person" is advised.

Even apparently straightforward sentences fall foul. "Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can't be sure"- the opening of Camus's L'Etranger - should have "or" replaced by "alternatively" or "on the other hand". And as for the most famous opening sentence of all, Anna Karenina's "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way", Microsoft thinks this is "too wordy", and suggests deleting "all".

Friday, April 22, 2005

Democratizing Innovation.

Prof. Eric Von Hippel of MIT has written an excellent book titled- "Democratizing Innovation". You can print off a free copy here. I highly recommend it.

Look into this.

You may like these two links- Freakonomics, The Culturally Customized Web Site.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

A colleague wishes me happy birthday.

One of the joys of my recent Grammar Check adventures is that I hear from delightful people with beautiful minds. Today, I heard from Gael Cooper, Professor of Public Relations and Director, Scripps Howard Center for Media Studies at the University of Southern Indiana. She wishes me happy birthday in this way-

Hippo bird day, two ewes!

Hippy berth die too use!

Hap pee bread due deer San Deep,

Hump pea bun deal tooth hue!!!!

[Yes, Microsoft Word's Grammar Check thinks it is just fine.]

Monday, April 11, 2005

Story featured on "Chronicle of Higher Education"

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story on my efforts. It has a fun title- "Microsoft Word Grammar Checker Are No Good, Scholar Conclude" (yes- Grammar Check does not detect the flaws in this sentence). Unfortunately, registration is required since this is classified as "premium content".

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

My Grammar Check Page on Google

My Grammar Check page has emerged as one of the top ranking pages on many Google searches. I provide some data below to support this assertion. The number is the rank on the search results page and the expression within parentheses is the relevant search term.

#5(grammar check)
#6("grammar check")
#2(Microsoft Sandeep)
#4 (Microsoft Word grammar)
#2 (Microsoft Word Grammar Check)

Monday, April 04, 2005

The linguists react.

This was posted by John Lawler from the University of Michigan on a list for linguists-

I see three points in it that I think are of interest to
linguists worldwide.

First, we could all use a better grammar-checker program, and the ultimate
intent of the 'crusade' is to stimulate linguistic research and
development, so this seems like good news for linguists and linguistics,
which is fairly unusual here as well.

Second, we can see from the surprise being shown by the American public and
the media that everybody actually *did* expect the MS Grammar Checker to
(ahem) 'Check Grammar'. This endemic ignorance is emphatically *not* good
news for linguists or linguistics. It's downright appalling.

Third, how come it's a business professor instead of a linguist?

Costco Testing Quick-Check

From Tim Razeltoff(Abarim Business Computers)

Costco Testing Quick-Check

Costco is either experimenting or has begun to institute a form of quick-check in its stores. Costco floor supervisors are usually near the cash registers to respond quickly to questions or problems. They also spend a lot of time just observing and not really doing much. Costco has figured out a way to make the time of those floor supervisors more productive.

Yesterday at the Aurora Village store I noticed that 2 of the floor supervisors were carrying hand-held scanners. They moved into the customer lines, scanning carts that had a smaller number of items. They would scan the customer's Costco card and the purchases in the cart. When the customer got to the cashier they only needed to give the cashier the Costco card to scan and the bill rang up immediately. Items never needed to be taken from the cart and the process was done in seconds.

It looks like Costco has found a way to speed the lines, make better use of personnel resources, make the store more efficient, and probably reduce costs - all with current personnel.

I don't know whether this is an experiment or whether Costco is already implementing this new program. I also don't know whether the scanners are from Intermec or some other company.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

My latest thoughts on Grammar Check

Written communication is on the rise, thanks to the reality of the virtual organization. Today, all of us write extensively to communicate with co-workers and colleagues on topics ranging from the mundane (e.g., setting up meeting times, sharing anecdotes) to the serious (e.g., online discussions on the future of a product, online decision making). The online environment is mostly textual and therefore, people are frequently judged entirely on their writing. Poor writing is equated with low abilities and could lead to a serious loss of reputation or status- especially when there is an absence of face-to-face interaction.

Despite competition from WordPerfect and OpenOffice, Microsoft Word is the dominant word processing software worldwide. It is everywhere. Users now use Word on multiple operating systems (different versions of Windows, Mac). It is the default word processor for e-mail writing for many. On college campuses worldwide , it is the tool de jure for writing reports, term papers, Masters theses and Ph.D dissertations. Its sheer pervasiveness brings with it a minimum level of responsibility. Therefore, Microsoft must take it upon itself to introduce features that enhance the user’s ability to write and strive to set the correct user expectations.

Grammar Check gives writers easy access to grammatical rules. The feature is easy to locate and even easier to run. The message to users is this- “Help is one click away”. As a result, in a world filled with deadlines and other time pressures, many are likely to run a Grammar Check on their documents “just to be sure”.

What do users expect when they run this check? I think they expect “minimum grammatical competence”. I define this as the absence of glaring grammatical errors. My point is that users are mistaken in making this assumption. You can run Grammar Check and still have terrible writing (not just “so-so” writing). Imagine the thousands of reports, e-mails, term papers, blog postings and memoranda that were sent out by users who wrongly assumed that Grammar Check would have caught their worst errors. These individuals would be surprised to learn that in some cases their writing was not just average, it was terrible.

Grammar Check gives users a feeling of comfort. This aura of invincibility that surrounds the users of this feature can be very damaging. Users who rely on it regularly (the 20% in your poll) may not be writing at the level they think they are writing at.

Grammar Check does not check the grammar of poor writers. Faced with the worst sort of writing, it freezes like a deer in the headlights. As a result, those who need the most guidance do not get any. I have emphasized ESL writers in this context. Children who are learning to write are a similar group that may expect an unusally high level of performance from Grammar Check. K-12 educators must be wary about the limitations of this feature on Word.

At this point, I think Grammar Check must either be renamed as “Grammar Analyzer” or something else that connotes a lower level of scrutiny. The Help file must be changed to reflect true performance. A warning message such as “Use at your own peril” or something along those lines must be included. The phrase “comprehensive analysis of text” must be removed.

I refuse to accept the point of view of many techies that we have to wait for perfect AI for us to move forward. We can take innovative and new approaches to this problem. On the Slashdot thread, there are already hints and ideas for new ways of building a Grammar Check.

The problem is not that we are relying on technology to help us with grammar. I am not asking Microsoft to withdraw their Grammar Check feature. I believe that a software program can help us improve our grammar. My message to all players in the marketplace is to create a better product- a plateau that is well within our reach.

Finally, I have been shocked by the comments of some techies that I am expecting too much from them. I know that is not the case. I hope future products have grammar analyzers that detect poor writing and help all of us write better.

Friday, April 01, 2005

The story about the story.

I made two national TV appearances on Wednesday- on CNN's "Daybreak" program and MSNBC's "Connected Coast-to-Coast" with Ron Reagan and Patricia Crowley. In addition, I was on King5 News (the Seattle-area NBC affiliate) and KOMO 1000 News (a Seattle radio station). I have received several e-mails and my web page has received more than 63000 hits on three days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). The blogosphere is abuzz with this story.

One of my favorites

One of my favorites