Using Anki while driving

Don't review while driving

I don't believe I have to state it's a horrible idea, that nobody should review flash cards while driving. Actually, I had not even considered that anyone would do it. But someone did. Actually, according to some redditor who do it :

I can guarantee you at least 50% of the Anki-using people in my medical school class (myself included) have done Anki while driving, whether stuck in a traffic jam on the way home or at an obnoxiously long stoplight.

And, as I answered:

You know what. I've been contributing to Anki ecosystem in one way or another for the past 5 years. This post is the very first time someone was able to make me reconsider whether it was a good choice.

Anki community can't be "perfect" according to my values

AnkiDroid has more than three millions active users. No idea how many users have Anki or AnkiWeb. I know that there are some users with who I could never be friend. Not in the abstract sense that I could not appreciate every single person in a group of three millions. In the concrete sense that I have seen people who uses anki, who are invested enough to join the discord or follow AnkiDroid on twitter, sometime people that contributes, that expressed transphobic views, that shared anti-abortion propaganda, that advocated law that makes the life of sex-worker more complex, or that explained to me that I should seek help because it's not normal to have blue hair. I'm extremely not happy about helping people who believe that protesting against people rights is a good use of their time, but I accepted the fact that there is no way to select who can profit from my work.

Once, I had to list the possible bad effect of Anki, and the most my imagination found is that people can learn things that they'll later use to do actions that are detrimental to society. Same as any education system. My imagination failed me, and I had not imagined that people may become addict and start reviewing in dangerous situation; which is the most amazing proof I ever had about how I lack imagination.

Excusing Anki

Well, to be honest, I don't think that it is "Anki" that is addicting. I fear that it's Medical School that fuck-up people. That is so stressful, so time-consuming, that every seconds is precious, and every bit of knowledge may have a huge impact on studies, and then career. Plus the well known absence of good public transit in the US, privileging cars for everyone. So it's possible that if Anki didn't exists on mobile, or didn't exists at all, medical school students would still have to do dangerous things just to increase their chance of success, that we are not really the cause of this danger, just an accessory. I can also compare AnkiDroid to a lot of apps, such as twitter, candy crush... that optimizes for addiction that have an interest in users spending more time with them. If we are addictive to some people, it's only by accident.

The issue is that I'm extremely motivated to excuse Anki. Being a contributor to anki ecosystem has been a huge part of my life since 2017. It has been extremely useful in a lot of social and professional situations, it has taught me a lot and is still providing me experiences as a developer, a maintainer, a mentor, a project leader that are invaluable when it comes to job interviews. It's also quite pleasant to get positive feedback from a lot of people that explains how our work improved their lives, how much they regret not to have known it sooner, etc... As far as dopamines go, it's far better than "just" likes on social network. That is to say, I don't trust myself when I consider that I'm not responsible, that I'm not guilty, and that I don't have to take those feedback into account, that I can keep doing whatever I were doing before.

What I could do

Honestly, I don't know what I could do. I could leave the community altogether, but I don't know a moral system where that would be an acceptable answer, the risks remains the same for users. Technically, I don't know whether I've enough permissions to delete the app from the playstore. I'm not certain, and I won't try. But anyway, it can be put back online relatively easily, so it's not a real improvement. Even if all maintainers were convinced that the moral answer is to delete the app, it's open source and other people can upload it. They can even add advertisement and gathering user data from it if they want[1], now that there is not a main standard version of the app on the playstore.

An obvious solution would be to check whether the user is driving. That is impossible. Firstly because we only access user data we need, and speed or geolocalisation is not one that is available (and someone waiting at a red light have a null speed). Also because we can't know whether the user is driving, a passenger, or in public transit.

Vocal only solution

If we can't forbid people to use ankidroid while driving, maybe we can at least ensure that it's less dangerous. AnkiDroid already has a text to speech system. Sadly, medical school student uses a lot of images, which is kind of logical since they need to see body part and diseases symptoms[2]. Maybe they can review only the cards without images, I don't know.

Anyway, with the current version of the app, the student must still use their screen to answer their cards. Maybe providing a way to give an answer without screen would reduce their risk. This as been requested a lot, but, until recently, there was no solutions that would work easily and consistently. It is possible that with help of Google Assistant[3] it can be solved. Some contributors made tests recently and shared them on our discords. Seems like a promising option. Now the obvious question is: "will it lead to people who were concentrating on the road start to review while driving?" And since the answer is obviously YES (recall that there are 3 millions users) the actual question are:

  • how many people who would not have reviewed when it required a screen will start reviewing while driving because it can be done orally
  • would those people have called while driving, or do other activities. Is reviewing more or less dangerous?
  • what is the increase in risk of accident (or decrease, even if I doubt it)?
  • How does this increase in risk of accidents compare to the decrease from people already reviewing while driving.

Conclusion: what to do

My main issue is that I've no training in ethics; apart from some random reading and the good place. So I don't even have the proper tool to analysis this question. Not that having the tool would necessarily provide me an answer.

I've often read that universities should provide ethic lectures in computer science departments. Usually, I've heard it when people discuss surveillance system, data gathering and analysis, prediction, face recognition, also when it comes to informing users and competing for their attentions, creating addictions. I've heard about ethic issues when developers contributes to software used by big corporations, government. I don't think I've heard about ethics when it comes to system that are fully controlled by their users and that is based on old technologies. And in this case, AnkiDroid is essentially an improved version of paper flash cards. Which may well be why I've no idea what the heck is the moral thing to do now. Appart at least writing down a blog posts, so that those damned ideas stop running through my head every time I contribute to AnkiDroid.

Yeah, because, right now, I still contribute to AnkiDroid. While I know that it very indirectly put people life at risk by distracting some drivers, I'm not stopping. I hate writing this line, but I feel like I have a duty to write out explicitly that it is the decision I have taken and own my choices. I won't even pause "until I've found an answer" because I don't know whether I'll actually find an answer one day.

I have taken responsibility towards other ankidroid developers, I want to be someone reliable, that people trust my word, that if I state I'll do something, I actually try to do it. There should be an excellent reason for me to leave a community with unaccomplished tasks. Today, I'm a Google Summer of Code admin and mentor for AnkiDroid; dozens and dozens of candidates spent the time to write proposal, I accepted the responsibility to mentor some of them. There is also an important change going on to change AnkiDroid, where it seems like my reviews has been useful (i.e. it detected bugs that other reviewers missed and may or may not have caused data loss).

So I feel it would be really hurtful for ankidroid if I were to leave, and I can't see myself do it until and unless I'm certain it's the right things to do; and not if I only have suspicions.


[1] Not an hypothetical scenario. That is what happened in China

[2] As a side note, I HATE when medical school students provide bug report with screenshot of their actual cards. I understand that it's a normal part of their review process, but I wish they would consider that seeing burned flesh or open bodies is not a normal part of being a software developer.

[3] Disclaimer: I've worked on Google Assistant during 13 months

Syntax coloring of code in Anki

b1er84ly53c61.png, mar. 2022

Programmers, we love having our code colored, bold, and so on, to get a quick overview of the code structure. Highligh does a really great job, however up to now, I have not seen anybody successfully using it in Anki and AnkiDroid. This is now done. Please, user of iOS let us know whether it works too

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What can Anki ecosystem do with more money

Anki ecosystem in general, and ankidroid in particular, evolves with a lot of constrains. There is few developpers, most of us are students or have a full-time job with it. Also, AnkiDroid do not officially exists, we are just a github repo and a play store account. This mean that AnkiDroid and anki ecosystem is currently limited by volunteer time and the little amount of money that we get through donation[1]. In this post, I'll consider what we may be able to do if we got a lot more money.

This are my personal thought, published without reviews by anybody else. In particular it does not endorse my employer, or any other maintainers or contributors of any mentioned product.


[1] Plus sales for AnkiMobile on iOS, but that is only for AnkiTekts, and pay for AnkiWeb, the synchronization/hosting/deck sharing service.

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I don't find myself queer

People I meet regularly think that I am non-binary and queer. I have to say, the more time passes, the more people assign me as woman - especially when wearing a mask for COVID. I have already written a post (in French) about why I am a man. I want to talk here about why I don't see myself in the word "queer".

A friend of mine offered me to co-create a queer open-mic. I said I didn't see myself in that word, to which she asked "Do you have impostor syndrome?". Here it made sense: "Do I really belong in this scene?". But I thought her more general question very interesting.

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Plausible deniability

I find it funny how mentioning that something is done for plausible deniability diminishes it but not extinguish it. Here is an example of plausible deniability that should not exists for entirely logical beings, but will still exists if you will too. I suspect you may appreciate it. Hopefully for  […]

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Google Summer of Code, point of view of a new admin/org

It's been a month since it has been announced that AnkiDroid was selected for Google Summer of Code (GSoC). Here is the story of a new admin, in a first-time organization. As it’s standard to state, views are my own, not my employer nor my organization. It explains how we went from unprepared to a huge success even before the end of the application phase!

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What the "Rationalist Community" means to me

For years, I wanted to write about what the aspiring rationalist community meant to me. Seeing a lot of people criticizing it, sometime with argument I agree with, often with ones which does not represents the reality I've seen, I made a twitter thread about it. Threads are helpful because I find it more acceptable to write whatever comes through my mind randomly, which makes it easier to write than a blog post. I'll translate and post it here too.

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The scheduler problem

The Scheduler problem is the biggest open problem in the Anki/Spaced repetition learning community I believe. As any good research problems, there are two questions to consider: what are the problems we want to solve, and how to solve them. I've no idea how to solve them, but at least, I hope I can  […]

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Effective altruism and criticism toward activism: Answer to a paradox

For a little while now, I have been exploring the notion of Effective Altruism - EA for short. My readings on the topic so far have been very interesting[1], and I would like to add my own idea that I deem important and have yet to read elsewhere. If ever this has been written down somewhere, I can at least attest to it being all well too hidden. Personally, I believe that it should be discussed in introductions to the EA topic.


[1] I have attempted some meeting with the French EA group, and have seen nothing but discussions yet. As it seems I have been more effective through direct actions against LGBTPhobia in high-school - for all my uncertainties about them - it had seemed pointless for me to join.

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Collaborative decks in Anki

A lot of people want to create collaborative deck for Anki. In September 2018, I had already made quite a few add-ons, and some people contacted me thus to discuss collaborative decks. It has always been in the back of my head since. I'm going to try to write down every thoughts I had and why it seems quite complex.

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How hard can it be to code a feature to let users resize images in a software.

In this post, I expect to show you why it may be difficult to create a seemingly simple program. In particular, to do it well. I'll show case with the last program I wrote, an add-on for Anki. More precisely, the most wanted add-on for anki, according to the vote of users of anki's subreddit: being able to resize image in the editor. This seems to be a simple add-on; after all, resizing by dragging corner has been done in every editing software for decades[1]. In this post, I intend to document all of the things which made me loose time when I created the add-on "Resize image" for anki. I also created a video showing how the add-on works.


[1] Appart from LaTeX, but let's not consider it.

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How I learn lyrics with anki

After years of using anki, I finally found a nice way to learn lyrics. I think I tried three different methods before finding one which works for me. More precisely, I found it a few months ago, and after testing it, I can finally way I found something which works.

To be more precise, I want to learn lyrics of song I love. Songs I've heard a lot of time, and whose meaning I know. The method I give here would not be efficient for a new song. In this post, I'll first explain what I want anki to do, and why I want it. I'll explain how to do it in a second part.

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Learning how to play music with anki

I've been playing music for half of my life. But while I was enjoying sight reading partitions, and sometime practiced a little bit the boring part (scales, arpeggios), I have been stuck. Here is a list of what changed:

  • The most frustrating thing for me being that I relied on partitions. Which means that if you gave me a piano or guitar without a partition, I wasn't able to play anything. I found that ridiculous, and anki helped me solve that.
  • Similarly, I played classical guitar, and I didn't know how to read tab. Because, honestly, they are so many chords, I keep forgetting them. Which means that, if you give me a song with tab, as they are hundred of thousands of them, I couldn't play it, because it was not written in a way I can easily read. I don't know every single chord yet (and I'll probably never know them all), I know far more chords today than what I knew before I started anki, and it clearly helps learning songs and doing improv.

The example in this post are related to ocarina, guitar, piano, harmonica and tin whistle. I will explain what differs and what is similar for all of those instruments. Some explanation may not always be clear, if you don't know the instruments I'm talking about. But don't worry, if you don't understand, just read the next paragraph, you should be able to get the general idea.

This article will be illustrated using almost only cards that I have really seen the day I was writing this article. You can find here my [piano], [guitar] and [ocarina] decks. They are far from being perfect, some typos may still be in them. But it may help you to understand what I write here. And maybe you can find them useful in your collection.

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