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Weekend Word Wrap: Shakespeare, Ebonics and the verb to be revisited

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I'm not sure if you can read the text in the picture below, but it's from a novel I'm presently writing. The sentence I'd like to bring to your attention is the one that reads: The person he was referring to was an acquaintance of mine... etc.

For fun, I had MS Word go through the document and underline what it thought were mistakes. For those of you familiar with this feature, you already know that a green squiggly under a word or phrase means the application has taken issue with your grammar. Clicking on the squiggly opens a window with suggestions on how to fix the problem.

worddoc.jpgSo, in the sentence above, Word suggested, as you see in the box, the word be for was, which would have given me this sentence had I accepted it: The person he was referring to be an acquaintance of mine
I smiled, as hopefully you just did, but then got to thinking about proper uses of the verb to be that sound all wrong to my ears, but actually aren't.
Two came immediately to mind:

1. Though grammarians are still clinging to the proper antiquated use of the subjunctive mode in the was/were debate (what I call "the mode of doubt") (correct: If I were you/incorrect: If I was you), they don't seem to fret much over the loss of the following use of the subjunctive, which I've plucked from Shakespeare's play Cymbeline:

Act I, Scene 6: Iachimo: If she be furnish'd with a mind so rare, she is alone the Arabian bird"¦

Act II, Scene 3:Cloten: If she be up, I'll speak with her...

Curious, ain't it?

2. African American Vernacular English (AAVE), better known as Ebonics, a dialect defined by its own coherent grammar and pronunciation rules, is big on making a distinction between habitual action and currently occurring action. For example, She is blogging and She usually blogs are two different concepts, one expressed by omitting the verb to be and one expressed by including the verb to be, though not in a way the majority of us are accustomed to (at least not yet).

She bloggin' = She is blogging
She be bloggin' = She is usually blogging

It's an important distinction, and one most people who aren't familiar with Ebonics generally don't understand because they simply assume She bloggin' and She be bloggin' mean the exact same thing, when in truth, they really don't.

So there you have two interesting and completely correct uses of the verb "to be," that don't sound correct to many of us, all thanks to the brilliant suggestion of Microsoft Word. Care to share any other funky MS Word suggestions you've come across? Go ahead, make us smile. The interactive part of the Wrap starts now!

Check out all past Weekend Word Wraps>>

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Opening Ceremony
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]