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Madden, Skrillex, Cupstacking, and reCAPTCHA: A (Surprisingly) Literary Journey

On August 30th, like a lot of people, I walked down to my local video game store over my lunch break and forked over some change for the next iteration of EA Sport’s Madden NFL, which we now have available at the Main library for any of our gaming programs!

I turned it on, ready to whoop some serious Raven tailfeathers, when I was greeted with a very interesting musical collaboration: Korn and Skrillex.

The song between 90s nu-metal angst-rockers Korn and the polarizing newly-christened wunderkid of electro/dubstep Skrillex “Get Up” debuted at Spin.com and reminded me to revisit his most recent EP Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites (coming soon to your TEEN library music collection).

While listening to the song, you might notice a very enthusiastic “OH MY GOD!” sample and be wondering where it comes from. According to Skrillex in an interview with the Nashville Nights blog:

This girl on youtube who does this cup stacking thing. She filmed herself breaking her record and freaking out saying “OMG OMG OMG” a thousand times. One of the best videos on youtube for sure! It was the perfect sample before the drop. Her voice really pumps you up! Here’s the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j54yGxuk0yo

So then I was left wondering what in the world she was doing, which led me to the world of sport stacking and the website http://www.speedstacks.com/. Speed stacking is the process of arranging a set of cups (with holes cut in the bottom to decrease air resistance) as fast as possible; according to Speed Stacks:

Sport stacking originated in the early 1980’s in southern California and received national attention in 1990 on a segment of the “Tonight Show”, with Johnny Carson. That was where it first captured the imagination of Bob Fox, who was then an elementary classroom teacher in Colorado.

It even has its own Association, the World Sport Stacking Association, where you can find all the official rules.

When I searched for and tried to download the song, I was greeted with an image that should be familiar to you all:

This gateway to Internet fun is, as you probably know, called reCAPTCHA. But did you know that by filling these out, you’re actually helping in a massive book digitization project? Thousands of books written before the internet are now in the public domain and being digitized by Google through a process called “optical character recognition” (OCR for short) in which after books are scanned, they are analyzed and automatically converted into a word processing document.

However, there are cases in which the machine can’t analyze a word properly. And that’s where you come in:

reCAPTCHA improves the process of digitizing books by sending words that cannot be read by computers to the Web in the form of CAPTCHAs for humans to decipher. More specifically, each word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is placed on an image and used as a CAPTCHA. This is possible because most OCR programs alert you when a word cannot be read correctly.

But if a computer can’t read such a CAPTCHA, how does the system know the correct answer to the puzzle? Here’s how: Each new word that cannot be read correctly by OCR is given to a user in conjunction with another word for which the answer is already known. The user is then asked to read both words. If they solve the one for which the answer is known, the system assumes their answer is correct for the new one. The system then gives the new image to a number of other people to determine, with higher confidence, whether the original answer was correct.

Little did you know that just by surfing the web and signing onto websites, you are helping to make information more accessible to the world! Little did I know that by firing up Madden to throw TD passes to Mike Wallace I would end up learning all this stuff!

~Joseph
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Main – Teen

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