There I was, minding my own business, as usual, working not out of my wireless cave that day, but in my local internet cafe, since I don’t own a computer and do all my email and surfing chores at the rent-a-computer cafe down the street from the place where I live.
I prefer renting. So every day, without fail, I make my way to the Dragon Fruit Tattoo Internet Cafe
in my little burg in southern Taiwan, without fail, I commence reading and typing for an hour or two until the money runs out and I need to put in some more coins.
This system might not work for everyone, but it keeps me sane.
However, speaking of sanity, the other day something entirely baffling happened and I still don’t get it.
There I was on Facebook, madly typing away to someone named Mad Mike Mageek, but before I could send my FB message, the machine asked for to fill in the Captcha security box and type in two words. The words are usually English words, in fact, they have always been English words.
The Captcha box will ask you to type in, say, “deer” and “tailgate” and then you’re on your way.
But this time, just the other day, here in Taiwan, the Captcha people sent me a Captcha box that asked me to type in one word that was printed in English and another word which was printed in Hebrew!
Yes, Hebrew letters, Hebrew script, the aleph beth gimmel of the Hebrew alphabet. Though it’s true I can read and decipher Hebrew, having studied it as a kid at my local synagogue and passed all the tests that allowed me to become a bar mitzvah boy at age 13 in the Boston area, I have no idea how to type Hebrew on a computer. And my computer here only does English and Chinese. Not Hebrew.
So not only was I flabberghasted, I was also perplexed and flummoxed.
Thus began this journey.
I asked around. My friends and email pals near and far joked that now maybe Facebook could actually peer into a our private lives and know which religion we followed as kids or which New Age cult we were into as adults.
But no, Facebook has no way of knowing I am Jewish, do they? Mark Zuckerberg, are you looking over my shoulder again?
Said a professor at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania: “This Captcha gaffe, or glitch, is very interesting. They must have thought that you were in Israel rather than Taiwan.”
David Rothman, a novelist in Washington, D.C., author of “The Solomon Scandals” and a founder of Teleread.org, noted with Jewish humor: “Facebook or the Captcha people must have ways of remotely X-raying you to see if you’ve been circumcised. That’s it.”
So I wrote to the Captcha people after locating their offices somewhere at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburg, and I received this nice note:
“Dear Dan Bloom,
You got a reCaptcha.
The Hebrew word must have been from some text that OCR (Optical Character Recognition) was having trouble reading. Anyone could have got it.
It’s just a coincidence that you could read Hebrew (and that the word translates to “book”).
Our Captchas do not yet make use of their uncanny ability to tell what languages its clients (like you) know.”
Notice he jokingly, yet somewhat ominously, said that “Captchas do not yet make use of their uncanny ability to tell what languages its [individual] clients know.”
I am worried. Should I be? Tell me in plain English!