Optical Character Reading
In yesterday's Circuits column, the NYT's David Pogue evaluated pen scanners, a gadget I've been thinking about adding to my reporter's toolbox. Alas, they aren't all that accurate. Typical result: "Even on a crisp, perfectly clean laser print of 'The Star-Spangled Banner' lyrics, two of the eight opening lines came out garbled ('Oh say can you see by ~h dawn1s early light'). " OCRs have come a long way, but they still lack the intelligence to put the letters they see in context.
I shouldn't be surprised, given my experiences with old-fashioned optical character reading--a.k.a. reading with my eyes--as I've tried to make out various mysterious characters to enter my many Diet Coke purchases My Coke Rewards. Each bottle cap or 12-pack box has a code that you have to enter on Coke's overdesigned site. The code is long series of random letters and numerals, seemingly chosen for minimum readability and maximum ambiguity--Is that an A or an R? A G or a 6? An M or a W or an N? I routinely take two or three tries to enter the sequence correctly, especially if a bottle cap with a plastic liner is involved. But I drink so much Diet Coke, I figure it's worth it for the free movie tickets. Besides, I might get a blog post out of it.