Archive for the 'Products – Software' Category

Waspish Wednesday: New Wrinkle on Captcha Problem


I have posted before about how Captcha interferes with internet access. It seems like almost daily I hear from a friend that she can’t access a website, a forum, or other resource because of Captcha, also known as word verification or image verification. It is a scourge on the landscape! It is an access-blocking nightmare! And it seems to be spreading everywhere you turn.

An example of some Captchas -- making the internet inaccessible to many people! Grr.

It has come to my attention that Blogger has made it harder (but not impossible!) to disengage this “feature” in the comments section of blogs. I discovered this when I went around to the various blogs that participated in the huge and amazing PFAM blog carnival I just hosted at my other blog, Bed, Body & Beyond to thank the bloggers in their comments. Almost everyone who used Blogger had Captcha. I was feeling quite frustrated.

Then I found out from a couple of them that there is a new Blogger and that with new Blogger, you cannot disengage word verification! They had tried but didn’t know what to do next. Augh! In particular, Kelly at Fly with Hope, was gracious and tenacious at informing me of the situation and running down and fixing this problem. Thank you, Kelly!

I tweeted my friends for information on any workarounds, and L-Squared of Dog’s Eye View informed me that there is a way for bloggers to deal with this:

They can report it using the Send Feedback option in the Nav bar & for now they can switch back to “old Blogger” to disable it.

No, it is not an ideal solution, but for those who are willing and able to jump through these hoops, we salute you for helping to make the internet a slightly more accessible place!

Please, website designers and software developers, do not be seduced by the popularity of Captcha. It hurts people. It really does. There is a better way, I promise you.

I am completely exhausted. I’m going to tick check the dog and myself, eat, and go back to sleep.

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT

P.S. Barnum is actually starting to be useful on random occasions. Today, one of my slippers was not nearby, and I asked him to retrieve it, and he did it perfectly! Woohoo!

Tip for Tired Trainers: KPCT Podcasts

There are a lot of ways to handle dog training and stewardship when you have a fatiguing illness. I have generally focused my tips on training. But sometimes you are just too sick to train. In fact, taking training breaks is not only inevitable, but useful and necessary for both human and dog. More on that another time.

You may have noticed that it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a Tuesday Tip for Tired Trainers, and that my posts have been less frequent lately, overall. This is due to a dip I’ve experienced in my health and functioning. I hope I will pull out of it soon. Meanwhile, though, Barnum and I train when I can, and I try to support our efforts even when we’re not training. How? By keeping ahead of him in my learning.

I have a feeling I’m not alone in this. Have you gone through times where you have not been able to do much training, and you are feeling restless? If you’re training a service dog, a lot is riding on your training, and you’re probably fighting impatience as it is. While latent learning can help both you and your dog — that’s the learning that occurs when you’re not actively training/studying, when your brain is organizing all the information you’ve taken in, so resting is actually a form of learning — you may also find ways to support your sense of accomplishment by other forms of passive learning.

It’s a fact that people have to learn a lot more and work a lot harder to train their dogs than the dogs do. Every time I ask someone to help me train Barnum, I describe in detail exactly what they should do. They almost always respond, in a surprised and joking way, with something like, “This is really human training isn’t it? You’re training me more than him!”

I usually say, “Yes, of course!”

In fact, when it comes to dog training, I find people much harder to train than dogs! The hardest person to train is me. I’ve learned the same lessons dozens, maybe hundreds of times, and I still do the wrong things sometimes! Sometimes even while I’m doing it, I will say to myself, “Why are you doing this?” Or after I’ve done it, and it has failed, predictably, I’ll ask myself why I didn’t see that coming. Well, that’s just human!

So, what if you’re in a position like me? Training is important to you, but you are too darn sick to do much of anything. If you don’t have a lot of mental fatigue or cognitive issues (whatever you want to call it — brain fog, chemo brain, fibro fog, CFIDS brain, Lyme brain, etc.), you might be able to read a dog-training book. I find re-reading my dog training books very helpful, especially because of my memory problems. The same holds true for watching dog-training DVDs.

However, most fatigue-related conditions also seem to affect mental acuity. And chances are good that if you’re reading or watching a dog-training program, it’s important to you to remember it. You might be following a structured program, such as Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels: Steps to Success, in which case you are trying to follow each “recipe” exactly. That’s not very restful! Too much pressure for a tired brain and body.

Recently, I’ve been listening to the podcasts on Karen Pryor Clicker Training (KPCT). These are usually podcasts by individuals or groups of trainers who have graduated from the Karen Pryor Clicker Academy (KPA). They cover a wide range of subjects, from typical dog-training issues (fear, aggression, games) to training other species (cats, fish, marine animals, other people, and oneself), as well as theories of training and behavioral psychology. Benefits of the podcasts are that they are available anywhere and any time you have a computer, and they don’t require a fast internet connection (the way video does). They are also free, which is a real benefit over buying a gazillion training books or DVDs. You do have to be a member of the KPCT mailing list to listen to them. If you aren’t already, it’s a relatively short, easy process to sign up, and the monthly articles you receive in your email are more than worth it.

I found this episode on the Power of Context Cues to be especially relevant at my current stage in training Barnum as a service-dog-in-training. Even though they weren’t saying anything I didn’t know, there are a lot of lessons it helps to learn repeatedly. This was a great reminder of the importance of keeping contextual cues in mind, and manipulating them to my benefit. Indeed, among examples relating to veterinary visits and aggression issues, examples are also presented that relate to guide dogs. (These comments came from guide dog trainer and KPA graduate and international freestyle champion, Michele Pouliot.)

The most recent podcast is this one on “Wow!” Moments by ClickerExpo Faculty. This page also contains a listing of all the podcasts to date, so you can start here and work backward, or pick and choose what interests you most.

These podcasts provide entertainment and education that is not too mentally taxing for me (usually). So far, they have not been on topics I felt I needed to take notes on, so I can just let the information wash over me and feel like I am still doing something to support my work with Barnum, even if we can’t shape behaviors.

If there’s a podcast you particularly like, please mention it in the comments!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum, SDiT and lately lead latent learner

Waspish Wednesday…Works? CAPTCHA News

A few weeks ago, I did a Waspish Wednesday post about CAPTCHA, otherwise known as “word verification” or “image verification,” which is a “feature” on many blogs and other online sites wherein the user has to type in a distorted set of letters and/or numbers in order to be able to post, comment, enter the contest, pass through the wall of flame without being consumed, etc.

Here are two examples of CAPTCHAs:

Most CAPTCHAs started out like this, only much less legible.

Now they usually look a little better, like this, but less legible.

CAPTCHA is extremely problematic for many people with a range of disabilities, including — but not limited to — blindness, low-vision, deaf-blindness, learning disabilities, cognitive impairments, visual or auditory processing issues, neurological disabilities, and fine-motor/coordination issues.

I wrote the post to raise awareness of this issue for other bloggers, asking them to remove CAPTCHA from their blog’s comment verification. I do know at least one person removed their CAPTCHA. Yay!

A few days after that post appeared, I got a comment from someone who seemed to be promoting his CAPTCHA-beating software. I deleted it as spam.

But he was persistent. A few days later, he used the “Contact Sharon” form and wrote to me personally. He offered me a trial year of his software free. I knew right away that I didn’t want to take him up on his offer because new software scares me; it always seems to make something new go wrong. Also, I believed that other people had greater need of his offer than I do.

I thought about asking if one of my readers could receive this offer instead, but I felt mixed about it. From an ethical perspective, I don’t believe that individuals purchasing software to get around CAPTCHAs is the answer, because that means that only people who can afford/access this software get around CAPTCHAs which are, by their nature, discriminatory. It’s an individual solution, not a systemic solution.

On the other hand, from a practical standpoint, if something exists that can make this inaccessible internet world more accessible to some people with disabilities, we/they ought to have the choice to try it, or at least to know about it.

So, I wrote back to him. Here’s what happened:

Mateusz Markowski (who I don’t know at all and had never contacted me before), wrote to me saying that he read my post about how CAPTCHA is inaccessible to people with certain disabilities, and . . .

[T]hus I’m writing to you, since I’m a developer of a new Firefox add-on called Captcha Monster which automatically handles completing CAPTCHA tests. Users don’t have to even think of CAPTCHAs, since the plugin will find the image, read it and put the correct text in the right field. No interaction is required.

The add-on currently works only with Firefox web browser, but is capable of learning new CAPTCHA tests and currently solves them on most of the websites. The time of solving is less than 9 seconds for each image.

If you’re interested in this add-on, please visit its website and feel free to contact me with any questions. If you decide to mention or review the add-on on your blog, I’ll be happy to offer you a free one-year subscription to the add-on!

I wrote back and said:

I’m not personally interested in trying out this software, but if you’re game, I will see if one (or more) of my readers is — with some strings attached (see below).

I have many readers who have disabilities that prevent them using CAPTCHA. Some of them are blind or low-vision, others, like me, have neurological issues or other physical disabilities that make CAPTCHA a problem. Then they could beta-test it for a year.

If you want, I could offer it to several readers to test it, and then you could get feedback on whether it is truly usable, friendly, and accessible to a range of people who have problems with CAPTCHA.

My agreement with you would be that after the test period is over, the person/people who used it would provide feedback on how effective (usable, accessible, and friendly) they found the software, which would not only go to you, but to me, and I would post those responses/results. If you wanted to respond with whether or how you could fix any problems the users/testers found, I would probably publish that, too unless I found something ethically repugnant in it).

The reason I said I wanted the option of posting the feedback from the beta-tester(s) is that if the software is NOT helpful or accessible, I don’t want people to read this here blog and think it is and be misled. On the other hand, if it is helpful, that could be useful for people who want the option of buying a plugin to make CAPTCHA less onerous.

Here is Mateusz’s reply:

The agreement sounds promising to me, since the feedback from users is really a desirable thing for a developer. I will appreciate all the suggestions and will do my best to make the add-on more useful and accessible.

I have created a test account for the people who would be eager to test the Captcha Monster. The account will be active for one year and there is no limit of users who could is it at the same time. However, I will ask you not to share the credentials publicly, but only to people who are interested in testing, since the account could be abused.

E-mail (login): XXXX

Password: XXXX

If any of people who you ask for a feedback stumbles upon any technical difficulties, I am always ready to help!

Best regards,

Mateusz Markowski

So, that’s the deal, folks. If you want to try Captcha Monster (I have to admit, it’s a cute name), use my Contact Sharon page to send me a note, and I will hook you up with the super-secret email and password (ooh). Then, try it out for a year. And if you have any problems during that time, email Mateusz, and tell him what is or isn’t working, and he will try to fix it.

I’m hoping this will be a win-win-win for all involved: Mateusz gets valuable feedback on his product, and a bunch of people maybe can get around the internet easier by using this software, and perhaps — if Captcha Monster catches on — it will make CAPTCHA useless enough that websites will stop using it, which would be great for everyone!

Before I close, my disclaimer: I have no personal investment in, nor do I gain anything from, this product. I know nothing about it other than what I’ve posted here.

If you have a problem or question regarding Captcha Monster, please contact Mateusz, not me! I hope this is useful!

– Sharon, the muse of Gadget, and Barnum (She’s making clicky-clacky noises on that black thing while she looks at the glowing box again. Sigh.)

P.S. Some warnings and notes from readers since this was originally posted: 1. Captcha Monster can only be used with Firefox, so if your screenreader is not compatible with Firefox, this won’t be of use. 2. Be aware that this is an untested software, so you are taking a risk in beta-testing it. 3. This note courtesy of Vomit Comet (thanks, guys!), “Warn everyone wanting to test this thing, do not update to ff5 yet. It is considered incompatible.”

P.P.S. To reiterate: This is not a systemic solution for an access problem, because only some people can use this product, so it may only help some people. If some people have to pay for access, that is not real access. The real solution is to eliminate all CAPTCHAs on the web. I hope everyone will continue to eliminate CAPTCHAs wherever they have the ability, and to complain about them elsewhere, to make the web more truly accessible.

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