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15 Weird Sample Dialogues from Old English Textbooks

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For hilarity, no book intended for English learners will ever match English As She Is Spoke, the unintentional viral hit of the 1880s, written by a non-English speaking Portuguese man armed only with a French-English phrasebook and a French-Portuguese dictionary. The examples in the book are so outrageously incorrect, there is no way anyone could possibly learn to speak English from them. (How do you can it to deny? The meat ist not too over do. I am catched cold in the brain. Why you no helps me to? It must never laugh of the unhappies.)

But there were also plenty of useful, competently written books on English that held their own kind of strangeness within. The practice of learning through example dialogues from everyday life was new in the 19th century; before that people generally studied other languages by reading and translating passages from literature. Someone had to decide what situations to represent and come up with these dialogues. Sometimes they didn't quite hit the mark. Here are 15 dialogues from old English textbooks that are not so much ridiculously wrong, as weirdly off.

1. On Declining an Invitation

You shall stay and dine with me.
Though ever so willing, I cannot.
What prevents you?
An engagement on an important business.
Do you say the real truth in speaking to me this?
I give you my word for it.

2. On Skill in English

You have much disposition to learn English very well. As to your cousin, he is not a great proficient in it.
It is but a year since I began.
I wonder at it.

3. On Germans and English

How do you like my pronunciation?
Indifferent, but you will soon learn the language; for I have observed that all Germans are able of learning our language in a short time.
I know the reason of it: because in the English are a great many words and phrases resembling the german, and they originally derive from it.

4. On the Difficulty of French

The French is far more difficult to Englishmen.
I am persuaded of the contrary. I can hardly believe it.
Experience shows it us every day.

5. On Reading

I spend the greater part of my time in reading.
You are then every day pouring upon the books.

6. On News

Well met, Sir, for I can tell you some very interesting news.
Have you read them in the Gazette or got them by private accounts?
By the last, but they are founded upon good authority.
Pray, satisfy my curiosity you have excited.

7. On Validating the News

There is talk of a siege…
That news wants confirmation. Who have you it from?
I have it from good hands. Mister N___ is my author.

8. On Trust and Authority

Do you believe it in good earnest?
Yes; for a credible person has told it me.
I assure you that it is an untruth.

9. On Sightseeing

I should like to see everything remarkable in this town.
Is there a guide-book to the remarkable objects in this town?

10. On Taking Lodging

Madam, have you any rooms to let?
Yes, Sir. Will you be pleased to see them?
I am come on purpose.

11. On Choosing a Room

Madam, you have a good room (any rooms) to let?
Yes, sir, will you have it forwards or backwards? Below or up one pair of stairs?

12. On Attending the Theater

They say there is a new play acted tonight…
Shall we go and see it?
With all my heart.
Shall we get into a box?
I will do what you please, but I had rather go into the pit.
Because we may pass away the time in talking with the masks, before the curtain is drawn up.

13. On Appreciating the Theater

The part of Macbeth could not have been better acted, as those parts of Lady Macbeth, Banquo and Malcolm were also very well represented.
I wised to have been present, but a vehement head-ake kept me from the pleasure of seeing this my favorite Tragedy represented.
I saw the first time the famous new actress upon the stage, and if I am to speak my mind freely, she has not at all pleased me. Her shape is very enticing, to be sure, and she sings like an angel, but her action is not to be born.

14. On Appreciating the View

What a fine sight to see from the mountain of Rathsberg down in the vale and in a great distance!
Pray, see what a clock it is.
My watch don't go. It is down; I must wind it up again.

15. On Getting Acquainted

His shape is free and easy.
One may call him a handsome man.
He dresses very well.
He is very genteel, he has a good air. He has a fine presence, and a noble gait. He is civil, courteous, and complaisant to every body. He has a great deal of wit, and is very sprightly in conversation. I shall make you acquainted with him.
I shall be obliged to you for it.

Sources: English-Japanese Conversations for Those Who Learn the English Language. K. Ooi, 1886 (1,2,5,8,9); English Dialogues Upon the Most Common Subjects of Life. Dr. Johann Christian Fick, 1813 (3,6,11,13,14); Élémens de la Langue Anglaise. Louis-Pierre Siret, 1815. (4,7,10,12,15)

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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