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When It Comes to Facial Recognition, Caricatures Beat Photos

We have a little saying around here—If the Hamburg Data Protection Authority doesn't like it, we don't like it either. What the HDPA doesn't like these days is the new facial recognition feature embedded in Facebook's new photo-tagging software, which is creepily known as "suggested automatic tagging." They claim it violates privacy laws because it's too invasive and collects data without proper authorization (i.e.—automatically). What they should be more concerned about, perhaps, is people posting caricatures of other people to their Facebook. Allow Wired to explain.

An article in the latest issue examines a scientifically proven phenomenon called "the caricature effect," which is a field of vision science that suggests a caricature "looks more like a person than the person himself." What our brains look for, when we seek to identify someone, or memorize their face, are outlier features that exist somewhere beyond the norm of characteristics we subconsciously associate with an ideal face. Those tiny little imperfections or distinctive irregularities that make us unique help people recognize who we are. It is these visual cues that are most useful for recognizing people, and since caricatures accentuate and embellish these putative aberrations, they make us more readily identifiable.

The article explains why facial recognition technology has been so slow to advance, in terms of its level of accuracy, despite decades of experimentation dedicated to its perfection. National security officials salivate over the possibility of equipping cameras in public places with facial recognition technology, in order to track/locate known criminals. The problem is, it's really hard to get this equipment to work properly because computers and their attendant algorithms obviously aren't human, and lack the benefit of the caricature effect. It's an interesting read, which includes a trip to the annual convention of the International Society of Caricature Artists, and caricatures of the author useful for (ahem) illustration of the subject.

Anyone remember those tee shirts that featured professional athletes with giant caricature heads? I used to have a Bo Jackson one that I liked a lot. What do you think of the caricature effect—spot on, or total bunk?

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How Do You Stress the Word: THANKSgiving or ThanksGIVing?
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iStock

Here’s something else to stress about for Thanksgiving: where to put the stress in the word Thanksgiving.

If you’re from California, Iowa, or Delaware, you probably say ThanksGIVing, with the primary stress on the second syllable. If you’re from Georgia, Tennessee, or the Texas Panhandle, you probably say THANKSgiving, with the primary stress on the first syllable.

This north-south divide on syllable stress is found for other words like umbrella, guitar, insurance, and pecan. However, those words are borrowed from other languages (Italian, Spanish, French). Sometimes, in the borrowing process, competing stress patterns settle into regional differences. Just as some borrowed words get first syllable stress in the South and second syllable stress in the North, French words like garage and ballet get first syllable stress in the UK and second syllable stress in the U.S.

Thanksgiving, however, is an English word through and through. And if it behaved like a normal English word, it would have stress on the first syllable. Consider other words with the same noun-gerund structure just like it: SEAfaring, BAbysitting, HANDwriting, BULLfighting, BIRDwatching, HOMEcoming, ALMSgiving. The stress is always up front, on the noun. Why, in Thanksgiving alone, would stress shift to the GIVE?

The shift to the ThanksGIVing pronunciation is a bit of a mystery. Linguist John McWhorter has suggested that the loss of the stress on thanks has to do with a change in our concept of the holiday, that we “don’t truly think about Thanksgiving as being about thankfulness anymore.” This kind of thing can happen when a word takes on a new, more abstract sense. When we use outgoing for mail that is literally going out, we are likely to stress the OUT. When we use it as a description of someone’s personality ("She's so outgoing!"), the stress might show up on the GO. Stress can shift with meaning.

But the stress shift might not be solely connected to the entrenchment of our turkey-eating rituals. The thanksGIVing stress pattern seems to have pre-dated the institution of the American holiday, according to an analysis of the meter of English poems by Mark Liberman at Language Log. ThanksGIVing has been around at least since the 17th century. However you say it, there is precedent to back you up. And room enough to focus on both the thanks and the giving.

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Watch Boris Karloff's 1966 Coffee Commercial
TAKWest, Youtube
TAKWest, Youtube

Horror legend Boris Karloff is famous for playing mummies, mad scientists, and of course, Frankenstein’s creation. In 1930, Karloff cemented the modern image of the monster—with its rectangular forehead, bolted neck, and enormous boots (allegedly weighing in at 11 pounds each)—in the minds of audiences.

But the horror icon, who was born 130 years ago today, also had a sense of humor. The actor appeared in numerous comedies, and even famously played a Boris Karloff look-alike (who’s offended when he’s mistaken for Karloff) in the original Broadway production of Arsenic and Old Lace

In the ’60s, Karloff also put his comedic chops to work in a commercial for Butter-Nut Coffee. The strange commercial, set in a spooky mansion, plays out like a movie scene, in which Karloff and the viewer are co-stars. Subtitles on the bottom of the screen feed the viewer lines, and Karloff responds accordingly. 

Watch the commercial below to see the British star selling coffee—and read your lines aloud to feel like you’re “acting” alongside Karloff. 

[h/t: Retroist]

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