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7 Interesting Typo Tales

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Last month, two members of the Washington Nationals took to the field without noticing their team name was misspelled on their jerseys. Apparently, it took them until the third inning to realize they were experiencing their own version of a wardrobe malfunction. This typo didn't result in anything more than a little embarrassment (and with a 10-19 record, there are bigger things to be embarrassed about), but some typos in history have had more significant outcomes. Here are a few examples.

1. They weren't as strict back then, were they?

In 1631, a widely distributed Bible came to be known as the "Sinner's Bible" when readers noticed a very important "not" had been omitted from Exodus 20:14, making the seventh commandment read "Thou shalt commit adultery." This resulted in printer fines, recalled copies, and one crazy bingo night in 1632. Today, 11 copies are known to exist (and you have to think Hugh Hefner owns at least one).

2. I've been dord a few times.

On July 31, 1931, Austin M. Patterson, chemistry editor at Merriam-Webster, sent an internal communication to the printers that included the phrase "D or d, cont./density." The intention was to add "density" to the existing list of words that the letter "D" can abbreviate. The printer misunderstood, and instead, printed a single, run-together word: dord, meaning density. The typo got past proofreaders and appeared on page 771 of the dictionary in 1934. It wasn't until February 28, 1939, that an editor noticed "dord" lacked an etymology, and an urgent plate change soon followed.

3. My kind of super-saver rate.

For twelve hours on April 5, 2006, an Alitalia business class fare from Toronto to Cyprus was listed as $39 instead of the usual $3900. Someone at farecompare.com posted the news online, starting a buying stampede that lasted until the fare was corrected. Alitalia initially tried to cancel the already issued tickets, but eventually relented, and approximately 2000 people flew to Cyprus for under $200, including taxes.

4. Whatever happened to a simple toy surprise?

Earlier this year, an Oregon company had to place a rush order for new packaging for its Peace Cereal. It seems a typo on the box sent callers to a phone sex line instead of the cereal maker's 800 number. So, instead of reaching the Golden Temple consumer relations department, callers were greeted by a recorded voice asking, "Do you love sex?" A spokesperson for the company attributed the incident to human error. And many Peace Cereal purchasers attributed their laughing fits to the incident for days to come.

5. The world's most expensive typo?

This one comes from columnist A.J. Jacobs, writing in mental_floss magazine. "In 2005, a typo by a Japanese stock trader cost one investment bank $224 million. The broker meant to sell 1 share of J-Com at 610,000 yen, not 610,000 shares at 1 yen each."

6. Can you hear me now?

One more from A.J.: "In 1991, a single mistyped character in a line of computer code left 12 million people without telephone service. DSC Communications and Bell Systems confirmed that massive outages on the East Coast and West Coast could be traced back to the one, tiny error."

7. ...and the rest is history.

google-hq.jpg

In 1997, Larry Page was in his office at the Gates Computer Science Building at Stanford University with several graduate students, including Sean Anderson. They were having a brainstorming session to think of a name for a website where immense amounts of data would be indexed. Sean suggested "googolplex," and Larry shortened it to "googol." Sean immediately ran a domain name search, but not being the best speller, he typed in "google," which was available. Larry liked the name, and within hours he took the step of registering google.com for himself and Sergey Brin.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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