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8 Uses of the @ symbol on Twitter

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Ever wonder how the symbol "˜@' can mean so many different things on Twitter? I did, and spent some time poking around online to find the answers. Having stumbled upon a very well written, informative entry on the subject over on Chicago-based tech guru Len Kendall's blog,
ConstructiveGrumpiness, (or should I say @ConstructiveGrumpiness?), I asked Len to expand on the @natomy of the Twitter "@" Symbol, and these are the eight examples he came up with.

One of the core differentiators between Twitter and other social platforms is its non-reciprocal nature. That reality led to a heavy reliance on the @ symbol. From the early days of Twitter, this symbol has grown to be used in many different ways and will most likely continue to have an expanded purpose as users become more clever with its use. The following are just a few pieces of the current @natomy:

1. Want Attention from a Response

This is the originally intended purpose of the @ symbol in Twitterville. It's meant as a way to specify your response to one or a few members while inside a very cluttered space. Users are able to find messages publicly directed at them in the original Web client, as well as with popular desktop tools such as twhirl or Tweetdeck.

2. Can't DM (Not Being Followed)

As alluded to above, one of the main differentiators (for now) between Twitter and other networks is that you are able to follow another person but they don't have to necessarily follow you. Despite it being an open forum, there are often times when we need talk to someone privately via Twitter, or perhaps say something that isn't relevant to the entire group following you. In this case, we direct message or DM. The reality is that not everyone is going to follow each other back. Some people don't want to follow people outside a certain kind of industry and others don't want to manage so many people. Whatever the case may be, sometimes the only way to get a person's attention may be to @ them publicly asking them to DM or e-mail you.

3. Want to Associate with Someone

Although the intention of the @ is to get someone's attention, often many will @ famous or influential people on the Twitter network to align themselves with that person. Part of them is hoping that the person with a large influence may just @ them back and thus expose them to a large audience as well. The other part of them simply wants to associate themselves with a big name so others will think the person @'ing is somehow connected with the influential figure (and thus also somehow important).

4. Rhetorical

Not far off from the original purpose, sometimes an @ is thrown into the Twittersphere as a completely rhetorical gesture. Example: Person A says something funny. Person B says "@Name is a laugh riot..." Whether or not Person A actually sees the response, others will know they are funny.

5. Recognize/Welcome New Followers (or list favorites)

Twitter is all about making new connections and finding new people to learn from. There are many opportunities for people to recommend others to their network and when doing so they often recommend many at a time. To make it easier for one's followers to click through to recommended tweeters, putting the @ in front of their name will turn their username into a link.

6. Give Credit for a Link, News, Content

Besides communicating our thoughts, Twitter is also a great venue for sharing links to all sorts of places on the web. Sometimes we find links on our own via things like RSS feeds or general browsing, but often we'll see a link tha was tweeted that we think is so great that it needs to be shared with our own network as well. In this situation, after a link is tweeted, adding a "Via @Name" gives credit to the individual who found the link and shared it with you.

7. Mentioning a Brand or Person (The Tweet isn't directed at them)

Big brands and big people are all over Twitter now. Although not really necessary, the Twitter community has grown accustomed to mentioning brands in their @Format vs. just mention "Brand." Partly because this lets followers click easily to the brand in question, but also because there is a small chance the brand will want to somehow respond to comment being made about them.

8. Spammers Trying to Get Your Attention

As mentioned in point two, not everyone has to follow those who follow them. The beauty of that system is that we don't need to be bombarded with communication from parties that we don't want to hear from. Alas, as the popularity of Twitter grows, so does the population of spammers who want to leverage the networks user base. Given the popularity of 3rd party clients, like twhirl, that notify you every time you receive an @ message, spammers have increasingly been able to infiltrate the gated community by setting up automatic scripts to @ you when a certain keyword is mentioned. Try tweeting about a few popular categories like vacations, food, or finance and see what happens.

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In addition to his blog, you can find Len Kendall on Twitter here.

And I'm on Twitter now, too, and can be found here.

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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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