Original image
Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

11 Spam Comments That Look Like Drunk Thesauruses (And Why)

Original image
Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

Nothing is certain but death, taxes, and spam comments on your blog. In general, spam comments are not designed to make you click on a link, but to have that link left sitting somewhere on your page. The idea is that in searches, Google will rank the spammer's site higher because there are a lot of pages out there linking in to it. The challenge for search engines and spam filters is to separate the genuine from the spammy, and the challenge for the spammers is to find a way to keep their comments from getting filtered or deleted. As filters evolve, so do the spammers. These days, in order to get through the filters, a comment should not only look plausible, but avoid repeating itself over a large swath of blog comment space.

One way to avoid repeating the same comment over and over without having to write thousands of different original comments is to replace the words in one comment with various synonyms. Recently, a spammer accidentally posted an entire spam template to Scott Hanselman's blog, where you can see how this synonym substitution works. For example, one comment template reads:

I {want to|wish to|desire to} {read|learn} {more|even more}
{things|issues} {approximately|about} it!

"Approximately" and "about" are indeed synonyms ("He is {approximately | about} six feet tall"), but not in this context. This is why so many of these template-generated comments look so odd. As many freshman writing seminar instructors can attest, automatic thesaurus substitution is a dangerous thing.

Here are 11 blog comments that clumsily give away their synonym strategy, from the collection of Stan Carey (#1 through #3), Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing (#4 through #6), and The Museum of Comment Spam (#7 through #11).

1. Fulgurous article, I suppose it is one of the prizewinning I’ve ever seen.

"Fulgurous" is a rarely-used word to describe a flash of lighting, which is probably standing in for "brilliant" here. "Prizewinning" is a synonym for "best."

2. This web site is my breathing in, really superb pattern and perfect subject material.

Some accidentally poetic etymological use here, with "breathing in" for "inspiration." "Pattern" is a synonym for "work"—when you're talking about weaving.

3. Splendid one, man!

"Splendid" can be a synonym for "nice," but it sure looks weird in this phrase. As Carey says, "it’s a bit of an awkward register mix, like 'How do you do, dude.'"

4. Though I do not necessarily concur with the idea in totality, I regard your point of view.

"Concur" for "agree"? "Regard" for "see"? Not just unusual, but totally pretentious.

5. I actually like what you have acquired here.

Another casual phrase, "I like what you've got here," rendered weirdly robotic with synonym substitution.

6. Unwell unquestionably come more formerly again as exactly the same nearly very often inside case you shield this hike.

A treasure trove! They must have begun with "I'll" but left out the apostrophe for "ill" which then passed through the thesaurus to become "unwell." A look at a bunch of similar posts with different substitutions suggests the source is something like "I'll definitely come once again for more if you keep this up." How does that work? Easy: Keep > protect > shield. Up > increase > hike.

7. Nice task.

Yes, a job is a task in some contexts. Not in this one.

8. I have been brooding about in case your web host is OK?

"Brooding" for "worrying," "in case" for "whether"—there is something so romantic about this comment, it almost earns its right to stay.

9. Hello there, simply changed into aware of your weblog via Google, and located that it is truly informative.

To become is to change into. To find is to locate. It all makes so much sense until you put it together in a sentence.

10. I’m taking a look forward on your subsequent publish, I’ll try to get the cling of it!

Hang, cling. Cling, hang. I bet they have a version that tries to "get the dangle of it."

11. I'm gonna watch out for brussels.

This mysterious sentence shows up frequently in comment spam, and it seems to replace "I'm gonna watch out for updates." How did brussels get in there? And is it the city or the sprouts? The only substitutions for "brussels" that I've seen in this comment are "diamonds," "gold," and "the city." Still a mystery, but an exciting international bank heist kind of mystery.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]