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16 Simple Concepts Made Simpler on Simple Wikipedia

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Wikipedia is great when you want to get a quick overview of a subject boiled down to its essence. But did you know you can get it boiled down even further? Simple English Wikipedia was launched in 2003 as a resource for "people with different needs, such as students, children, adults with learning difficulties and people who are trying to learn English." Contributors are advised to use common words and short sentences, but not necessarily to skimp on information. Even native English speaking adults can find it useful when the regular English Wikipedia leaves them scratching their heads over existentialism or the Higgs-Boson particle.

But Simple English Wikipedia offers more than information. In some if its reformulations, especially of already simple concepts, there is an almost zen poetry. Laugh at the absurdity or marvel at the deep truths in these 16 side by side examples of the first few sentences from regular and simple English Wikipedia. 

1. House

Regular: A house is a home, building, or structure that functions as a habitat for humans or other creatures.

Simple: A house is a building that is made for people to live in.

2. Weather

Regular: Weather is the state of the atmosphere, to the degree that it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy.

Simple: Weather is what happens in the sky. 

3. Firefighter

Regular: Firefighters are rescuers extensively trained in firefighting, primarily to extinguish hazardous fires that threaten property and civilian or natural populations and to rescue people from dangerous situations, like collapsed or burning buildings.

Simple: Firefighters or firemen are people whose job is to put out fires and rescue people. 

4. Love

Regular: The English word love can refer to a variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from pleasure ("I loved that meal") to interpersonal attraction ("I love my partner"). It can refer to an emotion of a strong affection and personal attachment. It can also be a virtue representing human kindness, compassion, and affection—"the unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another." And it may describe compassionate and affectionate actions towards other humans, one's self or animals.

Simple: Love is the feeling of liking somebody or something very much. People sometimes get married or go on a date when someone loves another. Love usually has something to do with the chemical reactions in the brain.

5. Internet

Regular: The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to serve billions of users worldwide.

Simple: The Internet is a large group of computers that are connected to each other. 

6. Horse Racing

Regular: Horse racing is an equestrian sport that has a long history. Archaeological records indicate that horse racing occurred in ancient Greece, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. Both chariot and mounted horse racing were events in the ancient Greek Olympics by 648 BC. In the Roman Empire, chariot and mounted horse racing were major industries.  Thoroughbred racing was, and is, popular with the aristocrats and royalty of British society, earning it the title "Sport of Kings." 

Simple: Horse racing is a sport in which a race is held between racehorses, horses bred for racing. 

7. The 23rd century

Regular: The 23rd century is the century of the Christian Era or Common Era which, in the Gregorian calendar, begins on January 1, 2201 and ends on December 31, 2300.

Simple: The 23rd century is a century that lasts from January 1, 2201, to December 31, 2300.

8. Electric vehicle

Regular: An electric vehicle (EV), also referred to as an electric drive vehicle, uses one or more electric motors or traction motors for propulsion.

Simple: An electric vehicle is a vehicle that uses electricity for power. 

9. Water well

Regular: A water well is an excavation or structure created in the ground by digging, driving, boring, or drilling to access groundwater in underground aquifers.

Simple: A well is a hole that is dug into the Earth to get water.

10. Dominoes

Regular: Dominoes (or dominos) generally refers to the collective gaming pieces making up a domino set (sometimes called a deck or pack) or to the subcategory of tile games played with domino pieces.

Simple: Dominoes is a game played with small tiles called dominoes.

11. Space Invaders

Regular: Space Invaders is an arcade video game designed by Tomohiro Nishikado and released in 1978. It was originally manufactured and sold by Taito in Japan, and was later licensed for production in the United States by the Midway division of Bally. Space Invaders is one of the earliest shooting games and the aim is to defeat waves of aliens with a laser cannon to earn as many points as possible. 

Simple: Space Invaders is a video game made by the Taito Corporation. Space Invaders is one of the most famous early video games. The game is about defending the Earth from Space Invaders by shooting them down before they can land.

12. Safety lamp

Regular: A safety lamp is any of several types of lamp that provides illumination in coal mines and is designed to operate in air that may contain coal dust or gases both of which are potentially flammable or explosive.

Simple: A safety lamp is a miner's lamp with a covered flame that used to be used in coal mines.

13. Poland national football team

Regular: The Poland national football team (Polish: Reprezentacja Polski w piłce nożnej) represents Poland in association football and is controlled by the Polish Football Association, the governing body for football in Poland.

Simple: Poland national football team is the national football team of Poland.

14. Circus (Britney Spears album)

Regular: Circus is the sixth studio album by American recording artist Britney Spears, released on November 28, 2008, by Jive Records. Looking to transition from her "more urban" fifth album Blackout (2007), Spears wanted to make her next studio effort "a little bit lighter", incorporating pop and dance-pop styles.

Simple: Circus is the 6th album by Britney Spears. It consists of dance pop.

15. Quince

Regular: The quince (pron.: /ˈkwɪns/), is a small, deciduous tree that bears a pome fruit, similar in appearance to a pear, and bright golden-yellow when mature. The fruit is edible when cooked and there is a long history of this, but the tree is also grown for its attractive pale pink blossom and other ornamental qualities.

Simple: The quince is a fruit that grows on small trees. It is in the same family as apples and pears. It starts green colored and then ripens to a bright golden yellow color, and looks like a bumpy lemon but it is not.

16. Balloon (aircraft)

Regular: A balloon is a type of aerostat that remains aloft due to its buoyancy. A balloon travels by moving with the wind. It is distinct from an airship, which is a buoyant aircraft that can be propelled through the air in a controlled manner.

Simple: A balloon is a kind of aircraft that stays in the sky by floating. People fly in balloons mostly for fun.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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