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CAPTCHA Variants: KittenAuth

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Over the coming weeks, I'll highlight a few of the best (and weirdest) CAPTCHA systems available on the web. CAPTCHAs are those "type this word" or "answer this question" tests you see on many web forms -- they're there in an attempt to prove that the entity filling out the form is not a spambot.

The term CAPTCHA is an acronym for "Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart." (The subject of Turing tests deserves its own blog entry, but let's just summarize here by saying that such tests are designed to test human-style intelligence.) While most CAPTCHA systems are designed using scrambled text -- something that's easy for humans to decipher but hard for computers -- there are some interesting variants in the wild. Let's start with my favorite weird CAPTCHA system: KittenAuth.

Developed by programmer Oli Warner, the KittenAuth system presents a series of pictures of cute animals, and asks the user to click on all the kittens. Well, that's the simplest form -- the current version may ask you to pick out a different animal, so you may have to click on all the pandas or lambs -- this adds some fun to the game, and presumably prevents spammers from investing all their effort on kitten-detection software. Here's a screenshot of an example from Warner's contact form (it's not clickable):

I like KittenAuth because it's cute and actually kind of fun. I wouldn't want to use the system constantly (for example, every time I added a Facebook friend), but for occasional use it's a great idea -- and surprisingly hard for a spambot to crack. It's difficult for a computer because image recognition is both difficult and computationally expensive.

In future weeks I'll go in-depth on the ReCAPTCHA system used on this very blog, and other interesting variants. But in the meantime, we've noticed a lot of commenters finding bizarre and interesting things in the ReCAPTCHA boxes. For example, today adrienne wrote: "I love ReCaptcha: 'Philbin girl' this time." We even held a CAPTCHA Contest in April in which commenters made poetry out of the CAPTCHA text. But I thought I'd ask: what's the craziest CAPTCHA text you've seen? I just tried two at random, and got 'integrated ex' and 'tingle tempers.' This is art, people.

Google Street View Now Lets You Explore the International Space Station

Google Street View covers some amazing locations (Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, and Stonehenge, to name a few), but it’s taken until now for the tool to venture into the final frontier. As TechCrunch reports, you can now use Street View to explore the inside of the International Space Station.

The scenes, photographed by astronauts living on the ISS, include all 15 modules of the massive satellite. Viewers will be treated to true 360-degree views of the rooms and equipment onboard. Through the windows, you can see Earth from an astronaut's perspective and a SpaceX Dragon craft delivering supplies to the crew.

Because the imagery was captured in zero gravity, it’s easy to lose sense of your bearings. Get a taste of what ISS residents experience on a daily basis here.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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Bite Helper
New Gadget Claims to De-Itch Your Mosquito Bites
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Bite Helper

Summer can be an itchy time for anyone who wants to enjoy the outdoors. Mosquitos are everywhere, and some people are particularly susceptible to their bites and the itching that comes with them. A new product aims to stop the suffering. Bite Helper, reviewed by Mashable, is designed to stop your bites from itching.

Place the pen-like device over your swollen bite and it will begin to emit heat and vibrations designed to quell the itch. It’s meant to increase blood flow around the area to alleviate your pain, heating your skin up to 120°F for up to 45 seconds. It’s the size of a thin tube of sunscreen and is battery powered.

Most dermatologists advise applying cold to alleviate itching from insect bites, so the question is: Will heating up your skin really work? Bite Helper hasn’t been clinically tested, so it’s hard to say for certain how effective it would be. There has been some research to suggest that heat can help increase blood flow in general, but decrease histamine-induced blood flow in the skin (part of the body’s normal response to allergens) and reduce itching overall. In a German study of wasp, mosquito, and bee stings, concentrated heat led to a significant improvement in symptoms, though the researchers focused mostly on pain reduction rather than itching.

Bite Helper’s technique "seems like a legitimate claim" when it comes to localized itching, Tasuku Akiyama, who studies the mechanisms of itching at the University of Miami, tells Mental Floss. "The increase in the blood flow may increase the rate of elimination of itch mediator from the area." However, before that happens, the heat might also make the itch a little worse in the short-term, he cautions. This seems to be borne out by user experience: While Mashable's reviewer found that using the device didn’t hurt at all, his daughter found it too hot to bear for more than a few seconds.

If the device does in fact relieve itching, though, a few seconds of pain may be worth it.

Bite Helper is $25 on Amazon.

[h/t Mashable]


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