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The Cupertino Effect: 11 Spell Check Errors that Made it to Press

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Typos and other errors have always managed to find their way into print, even in the most august of publications. Take, for example, the case of the Wicked Bible. But the dawn of word processing and its attendant spell check programs introduced a new kind of error now known as a Cupertino. It's a sort of older cousin of the "Damn You, Autocorrect" error that infects even professionally edited text. It was named by workers for the European Union who noticed that the word "cooperation" often showed up in finished documents as "Cupertino," the name of a city in California. Ben Zimmer has been tracking Cupertinos on Language Log for years. Here are some good ones.

1. Cooperation/Cupertino

"Co-ordination with the World Bank Transport and Trade Facilitation Programme for South East Europe will be particularly important in the area of trade facilitation and shall be conducted through regular review mechanisms and direct Cupertino."

From a European Agency for Reconstruction report, described here

2. Cooperation/Copulation

"The Heads of State and Government congratulated SATCC for the crucial role it plays in strengthening copulation and accelerating the implementation of regional programmes in this strategic sector."

From a Southern African Development Community communiqué, described here

3. Highfalutin/High Flatulent

"Clips of former President Bill Clinton and former candidate John Edwards are also used. 'Rhetoric is not enough. High flatulent language is not enough,' says Edwards from a debate appearance."

From a Wall Street Journal Blog, described here.

4. DeMeco Ryans/Demerol

Names are particularly susceptible to the Cupertino effect.

"Because of an editing error, a sports article in some copies on Sunday about the University of Alabama's 6-3 football victory over the University of Tennessee misstated the given name of a linebacker who is a leader of the Alabama defense. He is DeMeco Ryans, not Demerol."

From a correction in the New York Times, described here

5. Muttahida Quami/Muttonhead Quail

"The opposition blames the government and the pro-government Muttonhead Quail Movement (MQM), which runs Karachi, for the violence."

From Reuters. 

6. Refudiate/Repudiate

Cupertinos also result from the correction of errors you don't want corrected.

"The fact that she uses a hand-held device to write her Twitter messages without checking by her staff has led to errors before, such as calling on moderate Muslims to 'repudiate' plans for a mosque near ground zero in New York."

From the Telegraph, described here.

7. Truthiness/Trustiness

"On his regular feature 'The Word,' Mr. Colbert routinely mocks the kind of anti-intellectual populism perfected by Fox News. 'Trustiness' was his word of the day, he told viewers with a poker face, sneering at the 'wordanistas over at Webster's' who might refute its existence. 'I don't trust books,' he explained. 'They're all fact and no heart.'"

From the New York Times, described here. 

8. Sua Sponte/Sea Sponge

Foreign words are also common victims of Cupertino—in this case, Sua Sponte, the Latin legal term for "of one's own accord."

"An appropriate instruction limiting the judge's criminal liability in such a prosecution must be given sea sponge explaining that certain acts or omissions by themselves are not sufficient to support a conviction."

From a legal brief in a San Francisco appeals court, described here

9. Doro Wot, Awaze Tibs/Door Wot, Aware Ties

"An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to the Ethiopian dish doro wot as door wot. Additionally, the article referred incorrectly to awaze tibs as aware ties."

From a correction in the New York Times, described here

10. Socialite/Socialist

Here's one noted on Regret The Error, a good source for Cupertino hunters.

"An early version of an Associated Press story about the David Petraeus resignation and ensuing scandal mistakenly referred to Jill Kelley as a 'socialist' rather than a socialite."

11. Prosciutto/Prostitute

One of those examples that seems too good to be real, this was posted on an Italian food forum in 2000, and it's still there

"Crumble bread sticks into a mixing bowl. Cover with warm water. Let soak for 2 to 3 minutes or until soft. Drain. Stir in prostitute, provolone, pine nuts, 1/4 cup oil, parsley, salt, and pepper. Set aside." Yum!

From a recipe for Braciola, described 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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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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