This week, we look at this issue and other quirks of auto-correct and how to get around them, the best way to call 911, and what it’s like to have a retro email address. As always, hit us with your technology questions at email@example.com. If we can’t solve your problem, at least we can help you curse about it.
We are still battling with auto-correct: Auto-correct is capitalizing words for no reason. PLEASE tell me why this is happening in random words in the middle of sentences in iMessage. It drives me insane, thanks.
— Anonymous reader
Auto-correct being incorrect is a widely experienced quirk of modern typing technology. Auto-correct is a feature available on Android and Apple smartphones, PCs and applications like Outlook. Its goal is to make typing a little easier by automatically changing words, letters or punctuation it thinks you entered incorrectly. It can, for example, capitalize the first word of a sentence or change “teh” to “the” or “goorgling” to “googling.”
But sometimes this feature does things we don’t want it to. In this reader’s case, their iPhone would capitalize words in the middle of a sentence such as And or Front. Sometimes it will change a person’s name to all caps, like you are yelling it, or learn something by mistake and change a real word to nonsense. And of course, it notoriously tries to change bad words to more wholesome ones, like duck.
I am not here to complain about a magical handheld computer’s mostly amazing artificial intelligence. Auto-correct is great; it saves many of our butts regularly and my long-but-clumsy fingers are glad it exists.
That said, if you are frustrated with auto-correct, here are some things you can do to try to remedy it. On smartphones, most settings can be found in your keyboard settings.
- Turn it off: This way any typos will be yours and yours alone. There are different parts of auto-correct you can turn off depending on the problem. If it’s just a capitalization feature, turn off auto-capitalization. Same goes for auto-punctuation. Or you can disable it completely.
- Use slide typing: This is a smartphone feature that Google launched first and Apple added later. Instead of tapping out each letter, you slide your finger around the keyboard from letter to letter, lifting only at the end of the word. In my experience, it has a higher accuracy rate than when I absolutely butcher things with tap-tap-tapping.
- Use dictation: It’s another AI tool built into our phones and computers that is not perfect, but getting better all the time. Dictation will let you say your thoughts out loud, then do its best to turn them into typed words. This option works best when you’re someplace quiet, or is a good option if you’re driving and really need to send a message.
- Send a voice memo: If you want to make sure your words are received exactly as you meant them, just send a recording. Texting voice memos is increasingly popular, and is handy for any rants or thoughts that would take too long to type. The feature is also built into most messaging apps.
- Add your bad or unique words to the dictionary or text-replacement list: If you frequently deploy obscenities in messages and are tired of having them changed, add them to the dictionary or set up a custom text replacement, which lets you set up shortcuts and say what you want to auto-correct to. You can use this feature for things like turning “TY” into “Thank you.” But for curse word text-replacements, just put the same exact word in both fields. This also works for any words you use often that aren’t in the dictionary, say lingo from your industry.
- Reset the dictionary: If you’re on a smartphone and it seems to have a lot of quirks (random caps, changing real words to fake ones), you can reset the dictionary and start from scratch. On an iPhone, you go to Settings → General → Transfer or Reset iPhone, then tap Reset. You’ll see an option to “Reset Keyboard Dictionary.”
- Keep correcting it: The auto-correct tools on smartphones are constantly learning how you type. For example, if you capitalize a word often enough, it should assume you are using a proper noun and begin automatically capitalizing it when it detects the right context. Or sometimes it will take a stab just based on the rest of the sentence. (For example I found that it doesn’t cap for “Have you seen my tiger?” but does in “See you at the party, Tiger.”). If there’s an auto-correct issue you just can’t shake, try fixing it every time and see if the device learns your preference.
Cellphone or landline in an emergency? My husband and I were discussing whether it was better to use our landline or cellphone in an emergency at home. I know in the past if I used my cellphone away from home in an emergency, 911 could not find the location but has that changed? What is better to use in an emergency at home?
—Nancy Welch, Virginia
If the emergency is in your home, and your landline number is correctly registered to that address (most are), your best bet is to dial from that device. The 911 systems are set up to use the landline’s registered location, even the older emergency systems. However, most 911 systems should now be able to get an approximate location from your cellphone as well. If the issue is something that will require you to leave your home, like a fire or gas leak, use your cellphone instead so there’s one contact number they can continue to reach you at. If you’re unable to talk and can’t verbally confirm an address, calling from a landline at that location could be the most accurate for areas with older 911 systems.
This brings up another interesting issue. Many people have moved away from landlines entirely and only have cellphones at home. It’s fine to use cellphones to contact 911, but one issue we don’t consider is that it’s not as easy for kids to use them in an emergency. If you go cellphone-only, make sure your children know where to find a phone and how to reach emergency services, especially if the device is password protected.
When to let go of old email addresses: I have a Hotmail account. I know it has been compromised but where I use it I have strong passwords attached to those accounts. I know Outlook is a more secure and newer version but can I switch to using Outlook as an address or do I have to re-create the wheel with these accounts.
—Lois J Hansen, Peoria, Ariz.
Hotmail has been around forever, and that means many of our old Hotmail addresses have been exposed in various breaches or sold by companies we’ve used in the past. (Having a Hotmail address can also lead to some light teasing.) The Hotmail service is actually owned by Microsoft and has been fully migrated over to become part of Outlook. That means it is on exactly the same system as Outlook, including all security features.
Chucking an old email address out the window and starting from scratch is a huge ask for a few reasons. First, you’ll need to tell everyone where you’re reachable, though in the age of social media it’s easier to find a secondary way to track someone down. Second, you’ll need to go through and update every active online account you have with the proper log-in or contact information.
Instead, I’d stick with a somewhat easier solution. Do what you’ve already started doing and make sure it’s as secure as possible. That means a unique and strong password, and turning on two-factor authentication. You can open a new email address, but instead of moving everything over, keep Hotmail active and use it for any accounts or log-ins. You can even set it to automatically forward everything to your new email, but that could include unwanted spam.