In thrall to the demands of Captcha

Most rational thinkers would believe that online security is a tremendously important thing. Probably more important than sunblock or keeping your head still when you are batting at cricket.

So, initially, when wandering around my computer late at night signing up for anything with a pulse, I am not averse to taking The Final Step in such a process, the step where you have to copy a word, and I use the word ''word'' very loosely, which looks like a collection of soft rubber letters squeezed from a cow's anus.

Last weekend, attempting to join the blog of one of my favourite New Zealand writers, I was given one of these things, and after three tries, three different collections of mashed letters wriggling like gum snakes, I had to leave her page still not signed up.

I tossed and turned all that night, for I am not a man who likes to be trumped by something that really at face value looks to be one-tenth as difficult as Sudoku.

And by dawn I had reached the conclusion that maybe it IS quite difficult, maybe it isn't an eye thing, or a brain thing, me being weak in the former and at best erratic in the latter.

Maybe it is the one thing the Google people or whoever it is who run computers and all that stuff have retained to maintain total control over us, like putting a microchip inside our heads with a code only they can operate.

Nobody has ever commented to me on the difficulty of copying these words out, so I was left with the unsettling conclusion that I am far dumber than everyone I know.

However, Wikipedia bailed me out, as usual.

These gobbledygook words are called Captchas, an acronym for ''Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart.''

In this way it can be deduced whether the computer user is human.

Significantly, it has been discovered that people with disabilities struggle, especially those with disabilitied eyes, like me. So I feel a little better.

It was reassuring to find that if I failed to copy the word three times in succession, I wasn't barred from the site. The Captcha people allow you to keep going.

What's more, and I found this out by typing ''shrogfit'' when what they were asking me to copy was something like ''anwalhuib'', the words DO appear to get marginally simpler the more you fail, as if they recognise they are dealing with a total moron.

But even then there is sadism, for the seventh word they gave me to copy, right after one that was VERY easy, ''filmo'', was impossible again.

There was something of a pokie machine feel to the whole exercise, or more correctly, what I assume a pokie machine experience must be like, given that I have never used such a machine. I just assume you get pretty close a lot of the time.

But then, irony.

While continuing to collect Captchas to copy as images and affix to this column, I flung a vaguely possible answer to what was the 10th 12th word, it looked a bit like ''posioyph'', only to find out I was actually correct.

I have now joined my writer's blog under two different email addresses.

She at least will be wildly joyous at the recent surge in the public's love of her work.

Is there an alternative to copying out Captchas after pressing your eyes so far against the screen the eyeballs throb? There must be. Why don't they ask for the capital of Turkey?

Then you could look it up, learn something - a day spent without a day learned is a day lost - type in Menton or Kadangistan or whatever the capital of Turkey is, then you'd be joined up and you wouldn't get rilly angry and your eyeballs wouldn't throb.

Captchas, says Wikipedia, enjoy high respect in the intelligence industry.

They are clearly not for halfwits like me.

Captcha The Day, said Horace (70BC-19BC).

And Robin Williams. Bollocks.

• Roy Colbert is a Dunedin writer.

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