7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 18)

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!

— 1 —

I think I’ll lead off today with my weekly NPR recommendation. Like last week’s, this one is a little off-beat, but I found it fascinating. It’s from one of my new favorite NPR programs: The TED Radio Hour. Per its website, the show is “A journey through fascinating ideas, astonishing inventions, and new ways to think and create. Based on riveting TEDTalks from the world’s most remarkable minds.” (TED = Technology, Entertainment, Design. Check out more about TED here.)

Anyway, last weekend’s TED Radio Hour focused on “Why We Collaborate.” The whole thing was interesting, but the second segment stuck out to me the most: “Luis von Ahn: Can You Crowdsource Without Even Knowing It?”

You know those annoying little “CAPTCHA” codes you have to enter to register a comment, etc. with more and more websites all the time? The ones you (or maybe just I) can barely type in correctly, because they’re just so hard to discern? Mr. von Ahn helped to invent them. (And he seems to express the appropriate remorse.) Though of course CAPTCHA codes have their utility (to prevent computer programs from posing as individuals), they take about 10 seconds to complete. And that 10 seconds per person adds up to an awful lot of time when you’re talking about millions of computer users.

So Mr. von Ahn started to think about how those 10 seconds might be used collectively for some productive purpose. He ultimately founded reCAPTCHA, a company that uses images from old books as its CAPTCHA codes. Yes, actual old books. Because – get this – the company is harnessing those individual 10 seconds, from millions of computer users, to digitize the books. When an old text is scanned so that it can be digitized, software is used to read/input as much of it as possible, but there remain portions that the software can’t read properly. So real people need to do it. With reCAPTCHA, you and I get to be those real people. We see a snippet of text from some old book, we use our human eyes and minds to discern what it means, and we enter it into some massive database.

I have to admit that the idea just about made me giddy. Preserving the information in old books for the future? Love. Making efficient use of a (cumulative) massive amount of time? Love. Turning something super annoying into something actually useful? Love! I’m sure I’ll never enjoy typing in CAPTCHA codes, but I’ll probably find them significantly less annoying than I used to. I’ll certainly never look at them the same way again.

* I have to end this Take with a little caveat: When I gleefully told my husband about this digitizing-books-via-CAPTCHA-codes thing, his technical mind was a bit skeptical. How, he asked, does reCAPTCHA validate your answer if you’re the one producing it in the first place? Sometimes you type in your answer and you’re told it’s incorrect. If reCAPTCHA doesn’t already have the correct answer on file, how can it know that your answer is wrong? He’s a clever one, my husband. This problem hadn’t occurred to me. I wish the radio host had asked about it, because I really am interested to know the answer. There has got to be one!

— 2 —

That was long. I promise to make the rest of my Takes much quicker.

I think the following was my favorite image from this week:

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“Twain masters get weawy firsty.” He had just said, with authority.

— 3 —

Also (and this is rather less endearing), a short while ago I caught him shoving his little brother. When I stopped him, he said, “Dat’s because I have muscles!”

Me: “You are not allowed to push your brother!” Him: “But I have muscles!” Me: “Yes, and you’re supposed to use them to help people, not hurt them.” I don’t think he was convinced.

— 4 —

Did you see Jen’s post this week on giant, stinging centipedes that you wake in the middle of the night to find on your FACE? (Shiver.) I still don’t have anything to compare with those horrible Texas critters. (“We are NEVER moving to Texas!” I told my husband last night.) But we still do have critters. Brennan’s back into pest control mode here. After finding a few vacated glue traps in the basement earlier this week, he decided to replace them with the standard snapping variety. (Shudder.)

Well, yesterday evening I cautiously opened the basement door to maybe get something I needed down there. I listened closely, and I heard it: a rustling around, whipping back-and-forth sound. I decided I didn’t need that item so badly after all. Instead, I sent Brennan after it when he got home from work. And sure enough, he found another snake on a glue trap. This time he refused to tell me how big it was. Which probably freaked me out more than if he’d just gone ahead and told me. I don’t think I’ll set foot in that basement again until next summer. At least.

— 5 —

Speaking of critters, it looks like nobody triumphed on my little beekeeping challenge from yesterday. (Though Betsy got kind of close!) For those of you who didn’t see, I included the following picture (taken on an apple-picking trip earlier this week) and asked if anyone knew why my beekeeper husband found it puzzling.

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The answer is that (a) those hives are a lot taller than one would expect them to be this time of year, and (b) the boxes that make up the hives look to be “honey supers.” Supers are used for, yes… honey. Beekeepers generally only place them on their hives in the spring, for the bees to fill up with honey during the nectar flow. At honey harvest time (in this part of the country, that’s late June/early July), the supers are removed. Honey is extracted and the comb/supers are stored away for the following year. So fall/winter beehives are usually much shorter than their spring/summer counterparts.

As for why these particular beekeepers might have left supers on their hives, my husband could only assume that they’re being used for brood (that is the eggs/larvae/bees themselves) rather than honey. But who knows?

— 6 —

We’ve had a series of rainy days here this week and – seriously – I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time fantasizing about contraptions to channel my boys’ energy onto something other than myself. I am so very, very tired of being a human jungle gym. (Also, the noise, the noise! I think, for my sanity, I might need to invest in some noise-cancelling headphones.)

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There is of course, the padded/bouncy room idea. On a smaller scale, I seriously wonder if I could buy them each a small trampoline and tie netting around each (trampoline, not boy) in such a way that the netting keeps the boys contained/safe/bouncing around happily. Similarly, I wish there were a safe way for me to stick them on the treadmill. And also, you know those lovely baby bouncers you can put a 9-month-old in to occupy them? Let’s see the toddler version. It would have to involve a major harness, a big-time bouncing capability, and various things to hit/bang/knock over.

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Like this, only way more exciting.

— 7 —

All that said (and all my angsty Facebook complaining aside), I actually struck on a pretty good activity for the boys this afternoon. I suppose you might call it Pinteresty, though I’m not on Pinterest, so I wouldn’t really know. I call it motherly desperation. I threw a couple of bath towels on the kitchen table along with a bunch of measuring cups and spoons and various play kitchen items. Then I filled the bowls with water and told the boys to go at it (but not to tip over the bowls!) It kept the little one occupied for nearly an hour and the big one occupied for over two. I don’t think I’ve ever happened upon an activity (even our outdoor water table) that has held their interest for so long. I’m rather too proud of myself right now. (And yet also aware that this activity is probably a no-brainer to most mothers.)

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On that note, let’s call it a week! Have a great weekend, all! Don’t forget to head on over to Jen’s to check out the rest of the Quick Takes. (And if you haven’t “liked” These Walls on Facebook, please do!)

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