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12 Persnickety Rules From the Associated Press Stylebook

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Thinkstock/Bryan Dugan

Serving as an authority for working journalists on grammar, capitalizations, abbreviations, spelling and so much more, the AP Stylebook can be found in almost every newsroom in the country. Although some publications (such as The New York Times) stray from the guide, it’s become almost like a bible since its beginnings in 1953, setting an industry-wide standard. Updates are officially made every year as each new edition is published, and to stay culturally relevant, new rules are added—and sometimes they’re really, really specific. The committee of editors who set style aren't messing around. Style has determined what makes a boat a boat and a ship a ship, the spelling of "Daylight Saving Time," and that numbers above 10 must use numerals. Here are 12 rules from the AP Stylebook that you’d never know unless you looked them up.

1. Lectern vs. podium

Every college professor has lied to us. They're really standing behind a lectern, not a podium. According to the group of AP editors who decide all of this, a podium is something someone stands on.

2. The Internet

AP finally caved in to peer pressure by lowercasing and making "website" into one word, but they're still adamant that the Internet and the Web always be uppercase.

3. State abbreviations

Luckily, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah are never abbreviated. That's easy enough to remember. However, the rest of the 50 not only don't get the same treatment, but they don't even use the standard Postal Service abbreviations. Instead of "CA," it's "Calif." and "WY" is "Wyo." Memorizing these may be difficult.

4. OK. OK?

None of this "okay" business. It's OK, OK'd, OK'ing and OKs. (Yeah, it's going to look like you're shouting. It's OK.) This spelling may draw from the origins of the phrase.

5. More than vs. over

There are probably more than the average number of people getting this one wrong. "More than" refers to numbers. For example: "More than 80,000 people showed up to Coachella this year." "Over" refers to spatial relationships like, "Many hipsters flew from the East Coast over the Rockies to get to the music festival in Indio, Calif."

6. Toward

Add an "s" to the end of this word, and prepare for the wrath of every American copy editor's red pen.

7. Champagne

Grab the bottle and check the label. If it's from the Champagne region of France, always capitalize. If made elsewhere, call it "sparkling wine."

8. Percentages

Never use the little symbol for percent and always spell it out. For example, "About 80 percent of AP Stylebook users actually know this rule." (We just made that statistic up.)

9. Hyphens

The Associated Press loves to hyphenate words—sometimes ones that really don't need to be, like "worn-out," "best-seller," and "Wi-Fi." But then they don't hyphenate "halftime" or "businesslike," and even recently took the hyphen away from "email." It's as if there's no hard-and-fast rule or anything.

10. Carat vs. caret vs. karat

This one's tricky. Carat = the weight of precious stones, like diamonds. Caret = a common proofreader's mark. Karat = used to indicate the proportion of gold.

11. Trademarks

It's OK to use brand names if you're actually talking about the brand name. But if you're unsure of whether it's the good stuff or generic, use common terms like "facial tissue" for "Kleenex" and "flying disc" for "Frisbee." There are a lot more: "artificial grass" for "AstroTurf," "stun gun" for "Taser," "fabric fastener" for "Velcro," and "cotton swab" for "Q-tip."

12. Flier vs. flyer

A handbill or a piece of paper with a message on it, like something on 8 1/2-by-11 paper advertising a garage sale, is spelled "flier." A flyer is the proper name for some trains and buses, like the Heartland Flyer.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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