Friday, 12 October 2007

O'woe is me - It's a capostrophe

"The username contains an illegal character." This is the final straw. I can take no more. I need to share the pain of living with an apostrophe.

Yesterday I read Pedro's post and decided to get on the crest of that Web 2.0 wave. So I requested a beta account on JournalFire, which sounds an interesting way to review the literature. Today, I received permission to create an account. It asked me to: "Enter your name as it would appear for publication. For example: John M. Delacruz". So I entered "Noel M. O'Boyle". And I received the infamous message, "The username contains an illegal character"!!

What's the story with this apostrophe anyway? Well, at some point in history, when my ancestor was called "Ó Baoighill", he had this great idea: "hey, what's the story with this accent on the O; I want to use this new thing called an apostrophe that's going to mess up web accounts for my descendants" (or more likely "Yó, cad é an scéal leis an fada seo; ba mhaith liom usaid a bhaint as an uaschamóg nua sin, a scriosfaidh saol mo pháistí ar an idirlíon"). I'd have appreciated a bit more foresight, forefather.

On the web, the Irish are outlaws. This isn't the first time this has happened. A lot of websites think I'm trying to hack into their systems with my carefully-crafted surname. SourceForge is one of the only sites that allows me to use the apostrophe. But even there, they spell my name "Noel O\'Boyle" just to say..."okay, you can use the apostrophe, but we're keeping an eye on you to make sure you don't try anything crazy with it". Actually, I've just noticed that it's gotten even worse. Now, my name is spelt "Noel O\\\'Boyle". That's like two pairs of handcuffs.

Certain organisations should be more familiar with author names than others; for example, a journal. A paper of mine was recently accepted by J. Comp. Chem. On the PDF proof, the names are all in capitals, i.e. "NOEL M. O'BOYLE" for mine. However, on the web abstract, in the Table of Contents, and in the XML they provided to PubMed, my name is "O'boyle". I feel diminished.

It's not only on the web, of course. When spelling your name over the phone you find yourself saying things like "it's a comma in the air" when trying to describe an apostrophe. Sometimes you just give up and spell your name "Oboyle" with the result that people think it's "O-boy-lay". I've even gotten letters in the post addressed to "Noel O?Boyle". Which, right now, is how I feel.


Andrew Dalke said...

In undergrad I was a tutor for the math department. They had what even then were old PLATO terminals with a large number of problem sets on them to help students learn algebra, trig, etc.

The local administrator was an O'Named person, and he made sure that the logins allowed an apostrophe in the name.

So does Journalfire also disallow hypenated-names, or stränge characters? Or have a length limit?

Not that it matters to me. My .com email address is wholly unacceptable to them.

Noel O'Boyle said...

For the record, JournalFire has now fixed this bug. I'm feeling a little better now, thank you.