Category Archives: Amazing

As in unbelievable … astounding

Ouch! Greed exposed – Your $45 broadband costs your Internet Service Provider (Comcast – Time Warner) … $1.35

As quoted from “The Problem With Cable Is Television

“The operating cost of providing broadband service is low and getting lower. At Time Warner, the cost of connecting to the Internet and other direct costs of providing its high-speed data service fell to $33 million, down 18 percent. That represents just 3 percent of the revenue it collects for broadband service. But it doesn’t include the capital expenses needed to upgrade the network. Comcast reported $120 million of costs for high-speed data service, down 13 percent from a year ago. That represents 6 percent of its data revenue.”

Ok.. so If you pay $45 a month for broadband … it costs them $1.35 at Time Warner … and $2.70 at Comcast.

Lets put that in perspective … lets say it cost $1.35  to make a loaf of Wonder Bread (Of course that doesn’t include packaging upgrades) … $45 to buy it? … No more outrageous than the cost of broadband!

To add insult to financial injury they want to raise the price.

Do you think broadband users should be paying to subsidize Comcast and Time Warner Cable Television?

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Windows 7 Beta Release … Huge Failure Friday – Back again Saturday … Apology on Monday

Update: Saturday January 10th 1:00 PM eastern time.

Site is back up .. Key acquired … all is right with the world.

Update 2: Monday January 12th 9:00 AM. Microsoft Apologizes – 2.5 million key limit removed!

“I know many of you had issues with the Windows 7 beta site of the last 24 hours,” Brandon LeBlanc, a Windows communications manager, wrote in a blog post. “As you may have noticed the download site has been up and running smoothly since this morning. That said, we apologize for the inconvenience that it caused some of you.”

Friday January 9th

OK, to start with there wasn’t a clear statement on when the Windows 7  Beta was going to be released or which website to go to to get it.

So at 9:00 AM I started watching the site http://www.microsoft.com/windows/windows-7/default.aspx . The site was not available for quite a while … and then came up with the message Windows 7 Beta available for public download the afternoon of January 9th.  Geez … they couldn’t be a little more specific … like eastern time or pacific time or zulu time?

I trudge on … checking the site every few minutes  … Noon eastern time passes, 1:00pm comes and goes … 2:00 PM slides on by … I’m getting excited now as 3:00 PM approaches .. so pacific time  … that makes sense right … NOPE – 3:00 PM passes and I’m still checking the site every few minutes … ARGHHH!

I keep plugging away and around 6:00 PM eastern time I notice a message on the web page:

Thanks for your interest in the Windows 7 Beta. The volume has been phenomenal—we’re in the process of adding more servers to handle the demand. We’re sorry for the delay and we’ll re-post the Beta as soon as we can ensure a quality download experience.

Now I assume those guy’s and gal’s at Microsoft are pretty smart .. and they have tons of servers right … and its not too hard to add servers so I decide to keep trying … because I’m been doing this since 9:00 AM this morning and I’ll be damned if I’m going to quit  to have the beta come back up an hour later and the 2.5 million keys be gone when I try again tomorrow. 7:00PM …drags by … then 8:00 slowly ticks past … What .. is the server guy on vacation? 9:00 PM and I’m starting to get a little testy … at 10:00 PM I’m burning holes  in the shape of an X in the custom Windows 7  T-shirt I made for the occasion with my cigarette. 11:00 PM … yep you guessed it still no love from Microsoft.

I mean they could have said something … like come back tomorrow at noon pacific … instead of leaving me hanging with false hope  …

I went over to Friendfeed to see what my mentors had to say .. Paul Thurrott (my favorite tech person) was strangley quiet after his initial post about the beta availability … Chris Pirillo posted about the fail and posted a link for the direct download of the beta  http://www.lockergnome.com/griffin/2009/01/09/windows-7-public-beta-direct-download-links/ . Thanks Chris, but what we really want is an official release with the key that’s good thru August and not just the 30 day “no key” beta.

Now its 2:17 AM Saturday and NO the Beta is still not there. I’m throwing in my Mahalo towel and giving up for the night!

Paul Thurrott, I know you’re a pretty laid back guy… but I truly hope to hear you rant at least a little on the next  Windows Weekly about this whole debacle.

I’ve run the PDC Beta for a while. I like it.

Yeah I know Beta 1 is free … I already have the the Beta 1 from a direct link.

My concern is there are only 2.5 million keys and from the results yesterday its apparent they will disappear quickly … that’s what caused the “traffic jam” Friday and my complaint is about Microsoft’s handling of information …

“available the afternoon of January 9th” caused part of the problem and the vague follow up of “we’ll re-post the Beta as soon as we can ensure a quality download experience” continued it.

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Black Friday – The Shopping Spree Online – All Week – and then Cyber Monday Sucked!

For those of you who didn’t notice last week had some pretty nice discounts  … You didn’t have to go to Walmart or BestBuy at 5am to get the deals either.

In fact you didn’t have to wait until Friday to start shopping either because most of the online stores had deals going all week that were usually better than the stuff in the advertising circulars where you had fight the crowds  only to find the 10 of that item they had were already soldout.

And while we are on the subject I can tell you … because I paid close attention … that Cyber Monday sucked. Most of the items on sale from last week were back to their regular prices … the majority of the free shipping was history.

So what deals made my week?

Well I’m been using the beta trial of windows home server on a spare pc and it expires in February so I was planning on buying the software (its $100 after Microsoft’s price drop).  I spotted a deal on slickdeals for the HP Media Smart ex470 which includes the 4 bay media smart server, a 500gb drive and windows home server for $299 … ordered last Monday. ( $549 today at newegg.com).

Speaking of Newegg.com  They had the samsung 1TB drives for $92 … no tax and free shipping . I bought 3 last Monday. They are $95 now and still have free shipping

I’ve been planning on another HDTV and spotted the Dell deal (also on Monday)  … Sharp 42″ 1080p free shipping for $799. Granted there were cheaper 42″ off brands for less .. some even 1080p but most of the decent models were $899 and up. The TV arrived on Black Friday.

I really love Newegg.com I buy tons of stuff there and never pay tax and free shipping (I only buy if its free shipping).  I also bought the Rosewill dual bay sata II enclosure for $50 (down from $60). Lets you put in two 1 tb drive as 1 big drive. I have one already and its splendid and significantly more expensive everywhere else. The cheaper duals you see there are crap .. don’t bother.

Then I bought the Western Digital HD media player for $99 … for a spare bedroom tv set … hookup a usb drive with content and plug the hdmi cable into your tv and you’re good to go. Its back up to $119 today.

I already have the popcorn hour box, netflix roku box,  and the netgear digital entertainer hd eva8000 in the main entertainment  rooms but in another bedroom with an hdtv I wanted to get a video card for the pc in there with hdmi out so the guests could watch netflix and hulu from the pc desktop on the tv. I picked this one up for $20 after $10 rebate.

So I got the hp media smart server and the drives in on Wednesday. Put 2 of the 1 tb drives in the server along with a 750 and 2 external 400’s I had laying around for a total of 4050. I put the other 1tb drive in the main pc for the time being.

I put two 750gb drives in the Rosewill dual sata II drive enclosure.

I almost forgot … Newegg had an hmdi cable for $1.99 after rebate with free shipping so I picked one of those up too.

Meanwhile back on Newegg.com they had a 5 port gigabit switch for $14.99 … got one … then slickdeals got me again with the hitachi 1tb for $80 after rebate. (rebate is over now) … and while I was thinking where am I gonna put this one … I decided to pair it with the other 1 tb from earlier and bought another Rosewill dual drive sata II enclosure ( I love those). You can never have too much storage.

If anyone spots a good dual drive enclosure for ide drives cheap  … I got a couple of 500gb’s ide internal  drives looking for a home.

Oh….oh … I almost forgot I used Microsoft Live Search cashback for all my purchases.. average cashback was 3%.

And please someone take away my credit card! OUCH!

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OfficeMax’s ElfYourself.com partners with jibjab

Read the full story: NOTE … now open for business at elfyourself.com

This Christmas, OfficeMax’s ElfYourself.com Will Get a JibJab Twist

From Tech Crunch:

“A year ago, one of the surprise holiday breakout hits on the Web was ElfYourself.com. It was a promotional viral video site created by OfficeMax that let people upload their pictures and create dancing elves that they could then send as e-cards to family and friends. ElfYourself turned out to be the fastest growing site last December, peaking at 39 million unique visitors in the U.S. (and attracting a total of 100 million unique visitors worldwide throughout the campaign).

When Greg Spiridellis, CEO of JibJab Media, saw ElfYourself, it resonated with him because JbJab is organized around a similar series of “Starring You” videos that allow people to upload their photos so that they can star in the videos, and send them as digital cards.”

News Flash – Hulu and Netflix play directly to your TV – Popcorn Hour and MediaMall Playon

Popcorn hour a110 … its a networked media tank, a NAS, A UPNP server, a samba server, a media server, a NFS server, a Bitorent client, an NZB client and an energy saver to boot.

So my Popcorn hour a110 came in last week and I’ve been having tons of fun playing with it.

I have a netgear digital entertainer hd eva8000 (about $300) which has some similar features to the popcorn hour box… that is it’s HD, you can stream movies and music and pictures from attached usb drives or network shares , watch youtube and get some internet news feeds etc. Its great but there are some major differences …

1. You have to run software from a PC
2. No internal storage
2. No Hulu and Netflix
4. No using it as a nas
5. No nzb downloads
6. No Bitorrent client
7. Not much web content

The Popcorn Hour doesn’t need to have a PC running, you can add a internal hard drive or not. You get much more functionality when you do.

You can add more than 1 usb external drive.

Without a PC you can plug in a usb drive and hook the supplied hdmi cable to your TV and watch your movies or listens to music or view pictures. Add a drive and you can install all the extra provided software ..

You get:
A universal plug and play server which will usually automatically find any shared network stuff ( like my windows home server)

A samba server so you can connect the internal drive to your PC … map the drive on your pc and use it as a NAS or just copy over movies to play directly on the popcorn hour. To connect your popcorn hour to your PC (in vista) click start and type //192.168.0.190 (or whatever ip address you popcorn is using) hit enter and you will get a login box asking for a username and password … which by default is nmt for username and 1234 for password. In xp I think its start, run and then type.

•Right click on the “share” folder. You can see one option as “Map Network Drive”. Left click on that.
•Select the drive label you want to assign to the “share” folder, and click finish.

You might also use the smb server to create a network share with your nas or windows home server. If you have a windows home server then on the popcorn hour click setup then network shares then add

Share name videos

url smb://server/videos

username any username you already set up on the server

password the password you setup on the server for the above username

You can do the same for the folders photos and music . You’ll then see those listed under source on your popcorn hour.

An NFS server … another way of connecting.

An FTP server …

A Bitorrent client … just port forward 8077 on your router to the ip of your popcorn hour (note: you should also set the popcorn hour to a static ip address in the network menu on the popcorn hour.) and drop or save torrent files to the torrent folder on the popcorn hour drive you mapped to your pc earlier. You can manage the torrent downloads from your browser. http://192.168.0.182:8883/torrent/bt.cgi

An NZB app … if you have a usenet news server account just open the .nzbget folder on your popcorn hour drive and edit nzbget.conf file in notepad and change the newsgroup section replacing server1 info with your =news server, your =user name, your =password and save the file.

# Host-name of newsserver
server1.host=news.powerusenet.com
# Port to connect to (default 119 if not specified)
server1.port=119
# Username to use for authentication
server1.username=blahblah@mail.com
# Password to use for authentication
server1.password=12345678# Maximal number of simultaneous connections to this server
server1.connections=4#

After you’re done just drop or download an nzb to the nzb folder on the popcorn hour drive and boom its downloading to the download folder … even unrar’s the files.

Has youtube and other web content and saya tv .. I was not too interested in those .. but what really struck my fancy was a separate download – mediamalls playon. You install it on your pc and it acts as a server that lets you play Hulu and Netflix directly to your TV. QUITE AWESOME!!!!!!!!

So all that stuff I tryed … except nfs and ftp. Worked perfectly .. downloaded a torrent no problem. Downloaded an nzb and unrared no problem. Watched movies from windows home server shared drive, shared drive on the pc perfect … Played some music, watched some picture slide shows also perfect.

Now the popcorn hour is not as easy to setup as the Netgear hd Entertainer eva8000 and the popcorn hour doesn’t have the fancy pictures and movies descriptions you add with tags in the Netgear either. BUT you can add them . There’s a program called my Yet another Movie Jukebox that creates a movies catalog for you automatically with details and pictures from IMDB. Of course as you probably know you the movie you search for on IMDB may be another movie with the same or similar name so there are some drawbacks to the completely automated option.

Also check out My lil Movie Jukebox and a demo of it . My lil jukebox creates its pages from a neat program call Movie Collector which is not free but I already had it so …. Its has a lot more control of the data and you not only get cover pics and imdb details and ratings, but actors links and bio’s.

So that’s where I am right now .. This ain’t a box for your granny … but if you’re halfway intelligent you can figure it out and there are lots of great links on the popcorn hour group on Geeks.

Everything works perfectly playing from the popcorn but I am still working on getting the my lil movie jukebox add on program to play the links from my windows home server share. I’ll keep you posted as I progress.

2 days later

Okay .. here is my update on getting My Lil Movie Jukebox working on the Popcorn Hour A110 using media files on the windows home server.

Before you read any further you should be aware that one of the programs required to run My Lil Movie Jukebox is Movie Collector Pro which is not freeware. If you have a lot of movies … I have 500 .. you can expect to spend several hours using the program to grab photos and data about your movies and creating links to the actual movie files where ever they reside. There are other programs that will create a jukebox and try to populate the data from imdb automatically … Personally I would rather have the correct details and the added control you get from Movie Collector.

The My Lil Movie Jukebox has an extensive details page on how to use it. You should read it . Some of the setup details were incomplete and didn’t work for me with windows home server and the export app would not let me change the play button icons … but once I got it to install correctly I would say its pretty nice.

Another note before I describe how I got it to work with windows home server … about the Movie Collector export settings … while experimenting with different paths and going back to export again I found I had to reset the file to index.htm and the template to nmt.

The main page for My Lil Movie Jukebox has all these links below … I just put them here for convenience.

Download Movie Collector Pro and choose the default install

Download the My Lil Movie Jukebox software and unzip to the movie collector templates folder in your my documents folder

Download the Irfanview program file and choose the default install.

Download the ImageMagick program and choose the default install.

How to get My Lil Movie Jukebox and Popcorn Hour NMT to work with Windows Home Server.

You should be running the NMT software samba server and the Upnp server on you Popcorn Hour. You should have the drive on your popcorn hour mapped to a drive letter on your PC.

When I tried initially the Upnp server found the server:1: windows media connect and you could browse the folders and play the files from the popcorn hour but that won’t help you with the My Lil Movie Jukebox setup.

The Network Shares in setup showed nothing. You can manually add a network share or browse and add a network share. Browsing there I could see SERVER but clicking on it brought the infamous “no content found”. You can manually add an smb share and it will add a source where you can browse your shared folders and play your files but the link it created would not work with My Little Movie Jukebox export.

The solution is …. login to your windows home server go to users and enable guest with no password. Make sure Guest has the rights for Videos, Photos and Music. After you do that go to setup and network shares and click browse .. now when you browse to SERVER you will see the shared folders. Click on Videos leave the name blank … you don’t have to use Guest as user here you can use any name and password that is setup on your whs. I used Guest no password.

Below is what the export looked like. On the Windows Home Server in Videos I have 4 folders inside the Videos folder … Favorites, TV, new, and Movies which has 2 sub folders, grade a and grade b. I have the shared folder Videos mapped as Z:\ I used all the default settings in export except I chose to show title below image, and I took out the last 4 filters. enjoy

Drive Location = Y:\
Copy Resources? = YES

My PC Location 1 = Z:\Videos\Favorites\
My NMT Location 1 = file:///opt/sybhttpd/localhost.drives/NETWORK_SHARE/SERVER:Videos/Favorites/

My PC Location 2 = Z:\Videos\Movies\grade a\
My NMT Location 2 = file:///opt/sybhttpd/localhost.drives/NETWORK_SHARE/SERVER:Videos/Movies/grade a/

My PC Location 3 = Z:\Videos\Movies\grade b\
My NMT Location 3 = file:///opt/sybhttpd/localhost.drives/NETWORK_SHARE/SERVER:Videos/Movies/grade b/

My PC Location 4 = Z:\Videos\new\
My NMT Location 4 = file:///opt/sybhttpd/localhost.drives/NETWORK_SHARE/SERVER:Videos/new/

My PC Location 5 = Z:\Videos\TV\
My NMT Location 5 = file:///opt/sybhttpd/localhost.drives/NETWORK_SHARE/SERVER:Videos/TV/

******** INDEX SECTION *************

MovieIndex = index
Movies per page = 091
Index Background = background.jpg

Movie Columns = 7
Thumbnail height = 195
Thumbnail padding = 6

Focus Text = #000000
Focus Color = #FDDB2B
Captions? = YES

Thumbnail Cleanup? = YES
Irfanview Folder = C:\Program Files\IrfanView

ImageMagick Convert = YES
ImageMagick Folder = C:\Program Files\ImageMagick-6.4.2-Q8

******** DETAILS SECTION *************

Details Background = AllBlack.jpg
Image File Ext. = png
Display Movie Back = NO
Cover Image Height = 500

Focus Text = #000000
Focus Color = #FDDB2B

Play (not selected) = play1.png
Play (selected) = play_selected1.png

IMDB rating = YES
Video format = YES

Show Seen It = NO
Show Cast Info = YES

Show Crew = YES
Show Actor Links = YES

Show Nav Top = YES
Show Nav Bottom = NO

******** ACTOR SECTION *************

Actor Background = Movies1.jpg
Copy Actors Folder = YES
Perform Actor Export = YES

Focus Text = #000000
Focus Color = #FDDB2B

Actor Movie Columns = 6
Actor Cover Height = 230

******** FILTERS SECTION *************

# Filters to Export = 16
Main Index Title = Movie Index

Filter 101 = Action Action Movies
Filter 102 = Adventure Adventure Movies
Filter 103 = Animation Animation Movies
Filter 104 = Comedy Comedies
Filter 105 = Crime Crime Movies
Filter 106 = Drama Dramas
Filter 107 = Family Family Movies
Filter 108 = Fantasy Fantasy Movies
Filter 109 = Horror Horror Movies
Filter 110 = Musical Musicals

Filter 111 = Mystery Mysteries
Filter 112 = Romance Romance / Romantic Comedies
Filter 113 = SciFi Science Fiction Movies
Filter 114 = Thriller Thrillers
Filter 115 = War War Movies
Filter 116 = Western Westerns

You can buy the a100 Popcorn Hour for $179 and the a110 for $210.

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Absentee Ballot – Be careful … you could poke your eye out with that thing!

Pencils are dangerous – Remember the warnings you got from your mother … “if you stab yourself you’ll get lead poisoning” (actually Mom … it’s not lead its graphite) and “Be careful … you could poke your eye out with that thing!”

 

I received my absentee ballot in the mail the other day and was ready to fill it out and send it in … but then I read:

WARNING: Use only a No. 2 pencil.  “

 

You’ve got to be kidding me … I haven’t even seen a pencil in years! I searched through my “junk drawers” – where I find all kinds of interesting artifacts .. but no pencils. I asked my mother who has at least 6 of everything … NOPE! I asked co-workers at the office “You got a #2 pencil?” – they had no pencils. I’m determined not to go to the store and a buy a #2 pencil.

If you have a pencil then you need a pencil sharpener too right?

Those pencil erasers always wear down or break off so you also need one of those big erasers.

What if my pencil doesn’t say the number on it … #2 is not the only pencil you know!

So why did do we start using pencils on tests and ballots … and why are we still using them?

From howthingswork.virginia.edu

“The #2-pencil requirement is mostly historical. Because modern scantron systems can use all the sophistication of image sensors and computer image analysis, they can recognize marks made with a variety of materials and they can even pick out the strongest of several marks. If they choose to ignore marks made with materials other than pencil, it’s because they’re trying to be certain that they’re recognizing only marks made intentionally by the user. Basically, these systems can “see” most of the details that you can see with your eyes and they judge the markings almost as well as a human would.

The first scantron systems, however, were far less capable. They read the pencil marks by shining light through the paper and into Lucite light guides that conveyed the transmitted light to phototubes. Whenever something blocked the light, the scantron system recorded a mark. The marks therefore had to be opaque in the range of light wavelengths that the phototubes sensed, which is mostly blue. Pencil marks were the obvious choice because the graphite in pencil lead is highly opaque across the visible light spectrum. Graphite molecules are tiny carbon sheets that are electrically conducting along the sheets. When you write on paper with a pencil, you deposit these tiny conducting sheets in layers onto the paper and the paper develops a black sheen. It’s shiny because the conducting graphite reflects some of the light waves from its surface and it’s black because it absorbs whatever light waves do manage to enter it.

A thick layer of graphite on paper is not only shiny black to reflect light, it’s also opaque to transmitted light. That’s just what the early scantron systems needed. Blue inks don’t absorb blue light (that’s why they appear blue!), so those early scantron systems couldn’t sense the presence of marks made with blue ink. Even black inks weren’t necessarily opaque enough in the visible for the scantron system to be confident that it “saw” a mark.
In contrast, modern scantron systems used reflected light to “see” marks, a change that allows scantron forms to be double-sided. They generally do recognize marks made with black ink or black toner from copiers and laser printers. I’ve pre-printed scantron forms with a laser printer and it works beautifully. But modern scantron systems ignore marks made in the color of the scantron form itself so as not to confuse imperfections in the form with marks by the user. For example, a blue scantron form marked with blue ink probably won’t be read properly by a scantron system.

As for why only #2 pencils, that’s a mechanical issue. Harder pencil leads generally don’t produce opaque marks unless you press very hard. Since the early scantron machines needed opacity, they missed too many marks made with #3 or #4 pencils. And softer pencils tend to smudge. A scantron sheet filled out using a #1 pencil on a hot, humid day under stressful circumstances will be covered with spurious blotches and the early scantron machines confused those extra blotches with real marks.

Modern scantron machines can easily recognize the faint marks made by #3 or #4 pencils and they can usually tell a deliberate mark from a #1 pencil smudge or even an imperfectly erased mark. They can also detect black ink and, when appropriate, blue ink. So the days of “be sure to use a #2 pencil” are pretty much over. The instruction lingers on nonetheless.”

About Pencils

“One pencil can write 45,000 words or draw a line 35 miles long. It can write in zero gravity, upside down or under water. The “lead” is non-toxic graphite – the wood is cedar. Mass produced in Europe since 1622, the first U.S. pencils were made in 1812. And why are 75% of all pencils yellow? During the 1800s, the best graphite came from China. Yellow is the color they associate with royalty and respect. A pencil painted yellow became know as the best pencil you could buy.”

Here is the front page of Maryland Absentee Ballot. Where it actually says ” Mark only with a #2 pencil. DO NOT ERASE.


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I’m helping digitize part of The New York Times!

Captcha or reCaptcha … using Captcha security to correct OCR mistakes.

OK … we all know what a captcha is … that little box with numbers and letters you have to fill out in registration forms on websites to prove you  aren’t a robot with malicious intent. If you didn’t know … Captcha stands for “Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart”.

Yes … hackers have been beating the Captcha for a while now … fact is I’ve noticed they are getting harder to read and some of them have 2 sets of words.

So all of you who have seen and used this 2 word captcha give yourself a big pat on the back because you’ve been helping to digitize libraries of ancient books and newspapers.

The new project called reCaptcha was the idea of Carnegie Mellon University Assistant Professor of Computer Science Luis von Ahn in conjunction with the New York Times, which is digitizing newspapers going back to 1851, and a nonprofit called the Internet Archive, which is digitizing thousands of books.

If you’ve ever user optical character recognition you’ve seen that there are some words that just don’t get recognized correctly. It becomes even harder when the text is old newsprint or ancient books with faded and yellowed text.

That’s where reCapthcha comes in. More than 40,000 web sites including large volume sites like Ticketmaster, Facebook, Craigslist … are using the 2 word reCaptcha system. One of the words is the actual keyword to get verified but the other word … which is hard to read … is from a newspaper or book that OCR couldn’t decide on. How it works is they accept any word you put in but the word input most becomes the OCR correction.

According to Marc Frons CTO of the Times they are digitizing about 2 years worth of old newspapers every month.

So far they have been able to digitize 1.3 BILLION words.

Although we hate having to type in anything on those websites … reCaptcha is less irritating than Captcha as it is easier to type real words than random sets of numbers and letters.

Cool huh? Now we know our time wasn’t totally wasted!

Its estimated that 200 million Captcha’s are typed in every day.