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10 Annoying Sounds People Need to Stop Making

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By James Harbeck

Teenagers aren't the only people who make annoying speech sounds. You do, too. Everyone does.

 You probably don't make all of these sounds, but I bet you do at least a couple of them every so often. Watch a demonstration of these in the video below. And try to cut it out, would you?

1. Final rising tone

"Uptalk." Everyone hates it, it seems, because it turns everything into a question. But everyone does it at least now and then to indicate that something still needs to be filled in. Some people use it quite a lot as a way to draw the other person in without actually expecting a response — sort of like a "y'know?" It can be a sign of insecurity or concern that the other person might tune out. Unfortunately, it tends to increase the likelihood that the other person will tune out. Best to keep it for when you're leading to a key bit of information, or when the other person's direct inclusion is truly pertinent.

2. Final creaky phonation

"Vocal fry." The latest "OMG this new thing these kids do is going to destroy language!" But it's not new, and it's not going to destroy anything, though it can wear on the vocal cords after a while. Where uptalk seems to overplay the stakes, this closing drawl can seem to underplay — very forced-casual, perhaps also forced-mature. Everyone does it from time to time, often when being particularly dry or conclusive. If you watch videos of people complaining about vocal fry, you are likely to hear them do it themselves without noticing. They just don't over-do it. Short and subtle is the way to go, and not more than once every couple of minutes.

3. Fortis voiceless alveopalatal fricative

"Ssssshhhhhhh!" If you've ever been to the opera or ballet, you've almost certainly heard this, probably more than once, even all the way across the auditorium. Someone is murmuring or humming or something — annoying to those within five feet but not disruptive beyond that. So a person near them, rather than tapping their shoulder and asking nicely if they could stop, makes a sound that is up to 100 times as disruptive and is probably heard by the performers on stage. Congratulations: In your righteous indignation and desire for an undisturbed performance, you have disturbed the performance even more and have become the most disliked person in the theater. Don't do it again.

4. Velar-ingressive linguadental fricative

"Sucking your teeth." Often this is to the side, not right in the middle. It can signify something like "Stand back, I'm thinking — can't you smell the smoke?" I plead guilty to doing this whenever something irritates me. I've found it's better than the impulse it replaced, which was to say something vulgar. But I'm told it can be annoying.

5. Pulmonic-ingressive breathy-voiced rising-tone neutral vowel

"Gasp." In particular the gasp that some people make when they're a passenger in a car and they see something that seems to them might be an impending accident. It usually is not, but the gasp itself may cause the driver to flinch or otherwise react in a way that could increase the likelihood of an accident. If you do this only rarely and only when truly warranted, it will be taken seriously. If it's a habit, you may find yourself walking more often.

6. Fortis long final consonant with epenthetic neutral vowel

"Don't-tuh do this-suh." This has lately become a thing people observe and comment on. It's a way of emphasizing a point with dripping distaste, irritation, contempt. I used to hear this sort of thing from TV and radio announcers sometimes — for instance, at the beginning of Law & Order: Criminal Intent: "the major case squaddih." Make it a little longer and stronger on the "d" and more of a descending tone on the vowel and you get "squad-duh," and you're no longer an announcer, you're a peevish person. And an annoying one too.

7. Pulmonic ingressive voiceless alveolar glide and mid-central vowel, with optional unreleased final bilabial stop

Inhaled "Yeah" or "Yep." This is something that seems to be more common in some areas than in others. It's a guarded, thoughtful-seeming, perhaps stoic way of expressing assent or agreement. And it turns out to be really irritating to some people. I'm guess those people would prefer something more like "mm-hm."

8. Sustained mid-central vowel and/or bilabial nasal

"Uhhh… uhmmmm… mmmmm…" A noise some people use while talking if they're trying to formulate their next sentence and don't want you to start talking while they're still doing so. It's similar to just holding their hand up in front of your face while they pause. By the time they actually start forming words, you're already impatient, and you can feel pretty certain that the words they formulate will not make you less impatient. If you're the one doing this and you can't make your brain formulate speech more quickly and concisely, try saying something like "Also one other thing…" In the pause, the other person might say "Yes?" But you'll be keeping them in suspense rather than just droning them to an impatient sleep.

9. Alveolar, alveopalatal, or postalveolar click

"Tongue-clucking." Specifically in disapproval. Often done with a slight upward detour of the eyes. Someone else has done something one simply doesn't do, darling, and we're not the sort of person who would actually voice disapproval — how base — but, you know, tsk. In short, an impatient, self-regarding, passive-aggressive condemnation. If you do this, try just… not… doing it.

10. Loud long low back vowel with advanced tongue root and full oral opening

"Moose-call yawns." Not exactly a speech sound, but a sound that deliberately obtrudes and takes over the environs. It takes a simply bodily function — yawning — and turns it into an announcement, an excuse to dominate everyone within earshot for a moment. I had a roommate who did this all the time. He thought it was funny. Maybe if we had been in a frat house… but people are expected to get over reveling in bodily noises and using them to dominate the conversation once they become adults.

Listen to me demonstrate these sounds in the video below:

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