Capturing spam and doing good!

Man it is great to be home!


I have semi- purposely been ‘off the grid’, helping my dear friend Nicholas Negroponte of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program in India. We spent weeks touring elementary schools, talking to officials and explaining Nicholas’ great vision to bring computers every child in the world. We are very happy to report that India plans on ordering 250,000 for some of the county’s poorest children.

The laptops are specially designed to be durable, inexpensive and useful in all kinds of environments. No hard drive to fail, built in camera, open source operating system, all combine to create a great computer at a great price, under $180.

My many trips to India have made me a big fan of Bollywood, the country’s bustling movie industry. While in India during this trip, I got to spend time with Bollywood star turned politician, Shekhar Suman. ‘Shaker’ and I have become great friends over the years and share a love of classic manuscripts from around the globe. We frequently will send each other special finds that we pick up in book stores while traveling.

Shaker was holding a fund raising dinner, where I got a chance to meet many of my favorite Bollywood celebrities. Shaker had three beautiful books waiting for me at our table. We started chatting about how I’m going to have to pay for another bag on my flight home due to all the treasures I’ve picked up while in India. Pretty soon the conversation shifted to the need to digitize all these classics before they are lost forever.

My colleague from the India office of OLPC, Satish Jha, proceeded to tell us about a neat service that is helping to digitize all these classic manuscripts, enlisting internet users to help out. The service is called reCaptcha, and builds upon the efforts to cut down on automated form submissions by requiring a person to type in a word that is displayed in an image, usually obscured by lines or by being malformed.

reCaptcha takes images of words from classic texts that have failed to be scanned during a digitizing effort. The user enters one of these words, along with a known word, and solves the puzzle for digitizers. With over 200 million Captchas being solved each day, reCaptcha’s efforts could really take off as it is adopted by more sites. The New York Times, Craigslist and others have adopted this service to cut down spam as well as do some good.

I made it home with the manuscripts and promptly spent my evenings pouring over them. Hopefully next time, I will be able to simply open up my Kindle and read 100s of these great books!

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