Sum Eye Deers R Badt

Put on your curmudgeon hats, please, and join me on a little trip into the dark side of miniaturization. If the Raspberry Pi is the Yoda side of miniaturization and embedded Linux, this is somewhere out in Darth Vader territory.

Lernstift is running a Kickstarter campaign to bring you “the first pen that vibrates when u make a mistake”. Presumably the pen will vibrate if you try to reproduce the Kickstarter. Actually, it’ll vibrate quite a bit. There are more than a few typos in the listing and one heck of a lot of words that are not likely to be in its dictionary.

Is this really a product the world needs?

Quick show of hands: How many of you find the little red squiggles under your misspelled words in [insert name of favorite word processor] annoying? (I’m not asking if you turn them off, just whether they bother you.) Ditto for the differently-colored squiggles for grammatical errors.

I’m betting most of you raised a hand. Now, think about getting those same squiggles when you’re writing a note to yourself. Or writing a check.  Or doing your math homework.

Look, I’m all for giving immediate feedback, especially to those just beginning to learn how to do something, and Lernstift is pitching this pen initially at “writing starters”: children 5-8 years old. But how useful is it to vibrate on a mistake? Part of the feedback process needs to be guidance: explaining what the mistake is. By only implementing half of the process, they are in effect creating a critter that stands on the desk and screams “Ha, ha! You goofed!” as you write.

Wait, it gets worse: The pen will not only vibrate for spelling errors, but it will also vibrate for “flaws of form and legibility”. So the critter isn’t just screaming “You goofed!” it’s also screaming “What? I don’t understand!” Let’s hope it’s a least a different vibration, or those poor kids who are forced to use this thing will be going nuts trying to figure out what the problem is. And it’s the ones who need the most help who will be getting the most frequent unhelpful corrections.

Even better yet: “…we will implement a community framework / app: Through this, users can add their own private and public words to the pen’s language catalogues. We will also provide an app that can be used to create punctuation and orthography rules. That way, each Lernstift user becomes a creator.” One hopes that the app will feed into some kind of a review queue before these add-on rules and dictionaries become available to others. Given the massive confusion about “its” versus “it’s” (and indeed, the current tendency to add an apostrophe to any and every word ending with “s”) I can’t see crowd-sourced style guides catching on. Even if you’re just creating catalogs for your own use–or more likely your kids’ use, given the initial target audience–the process is likely to be aggravating. It would be as if your word processor didn’t have an “add word to dictionary” or “ignore all” choice in its menu, but required you to exit the word processor, launch a dictionary-maintenance program to add the word, and then re-open your document and continue writing. One hopes that at the very least, the add-on catalogs are flagged in such a way that the software will not let you mix and match across languages. The pen will launch supporting English and German, with at least a dozen more planned if you can believe the Kickstarter pitch. (Parenthetically, I don’t see any indications of whether “English” is UK, US, or some other dialect.) Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if you accidentally loaded, say, German punctuation rules and Chinese spelling?

And did you notice my use of the word “forced” up above? Lernstift is already partnering with “education officials who are interested in integrating Lernstift in their curriculum…this would, for instance, allow teachers to see, in real time, what their students are writing, and to respond instantly.” I’m not even going to talk about the negative impact on passing notes in class, I’m just going to point out that unless the integration is handled with a great degree of tact, that critter will no longer just be screaming at you, but at everyone in your class. That’s not the kind of feedback anyone needs, but especially not beginners.

Seriously, folks. Don’t support this Kickstarter. Tell your friends not to support it. Maybe there’s a good idea lurking in this proposal. But if so, it’s diluted to homeopathic levels.

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