“Solar flare”, the movie

Corporate logo trends

CAPTCHA poetry

If you’ve tried to log onto a web service lately — such as Yahoo’s free email, or Ticketmaster — you’ve probably seen a CAPTCHA. That’s the ungainly acronym for a Completely Automatic Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. A CAPTHCA is a technique for stopping spambots from commandeering a web site. The test asks you to identify a little picture — usually a stretched or skewed word — before you go any further. Since people can identify pictures very easily, but computers can’t, it stops the spambots cold. The end result, though, is that the Internet is now flooded with these colorful little pictures of distorted words.

Now programmer Patrick Swiekowski has written a script that automatically collects CAPTCHA images from AOL’s screen-name signup process, and displays them four at a time on a web page, as a form of poetry. The page refreshes every few seconds, so it’s kind of like reading a robotized version of fridge-magnet poetry — four words juxtaposed in strange and often eerie ways. I watched it refresh for a couple of minutes and saw the following “poems”:

long flag
power even

bath with
dust market

side berry
feeble near

rice swim letter good

drop soup
thread there

That’s the most compressed literary form I’ve ever seen! Ultra-haiku.

(Thanks to Lonnie Foster’s Tribblescape for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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