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11 Brand Names With Confusing Plurals

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Let's just say right off the bat that companies generally do not have an official position on how to pluralize their brand names, because they do not want you to pluralize them at all. To protect their trademarks, companies need to keep them from becoming generic terms. They don't want people to use band-aids (generic), but Band-Aid brand adhesive bandages. They don't want people to eat oreos, but Oreo cookies.

But the pluralizing is going to happen anyway (even in the companies' own advertising campaigns). This is just how we talk about things. Nobody asks for adhesive bandages. Everybody eats Oreos. There are some brands, however, that people aren't quite sure how to talk about.

1. LEGO? LEGOS?

If you go to LEGOS.com, they don't just redirect you to LEGO.com, they first subtly scold you with a message that essentially says, "Oh, you must be looking for LEGO bricks and toys (not Legos, you idiot)." But that's toned way down from the message that greeted LEGO fans in 2005 (screenshot above via YesButNoButYes). It seems that only in North America do people talk about "playing with LEGOs" and "stepping on LEGOs." Elsewhere people play with LEGO, and step on LEGO bricks.

2. Lexuses? Lexi? Lexera?

Lexus, like Prius, also has a Latinate look to it that makes people hesitate at saying Lexuses.

3. Mercedeses? Mercedes?

Mercedeses doesn't exactly roll off the tongue. Some prefer to treat it like "moose" and let the same word stand for one Mercedes or four Mercedes. Or you could always say Benzes.

4. Kleenexes? Kleenices?

It works well as a mass noun—we talk about a box of Kleenex, but what if you want exactly three Kleenex brand tissues? It's an irresistible temptation to show off your familiarity with Latin "–ex" pluralization, is what it is.

5. Twix? Twixes? Twixen?

The first problem is that there are two pieces in a package of Twix brand candy bars. Are both of them taken together Twix or Twixes? And what if you have more than one package? Then you have two Twixes? Or two packs of Twixes? Or just a bunch of Twix?

6. Rolexes? Roleges? Rolices?

Are you trying to look like some kind of king with all your Rolexes? Then you may want to reference the Latin rex (king), plural reges, with Roleges, an appropriately pretentious and extravagant choice.

7. Filet-O-Fish? Filet-O-Fishes? Filets-O-Fish?

Fish is the plural of fish, unless you're talking different varieties of fish, in which case it's fishes. A Filet-O-Fish may actually be a Filet-O-(various)Fishes for all you know, so how to refer to more than one sandwich? You could take the easy way out with "Filet-O-Fish sandwiches," but isn't it more fun to go the attorneys-general route with Filets-O-Fish?

8. BlackBerrys? BlackBerries?

This one only concerns the written form. It just looks weird to have a y followed by a plural s, but pluralizing berry the usual way doesn't seem right either. I guess that's why "mobile devices" gained traction during the early BlackBerry days. Pretty sneaky way to do trademark enforcement, BlackBerry. Well played.

9. Priuses? Prii? Priora? Prien?

In 2011, Toyota ran an ad campaign where they encouraged people vote for their preferred plural form of Prius. Prii was the winner. But plain old English Priuses seems to be the more common choice in real life.

10. Google Glass? Google Glasses?

So far, people have been pretty good about following Google's trademark directive and calling it Google Glass rather than Google Glasses (I'm wearing my Google Glass today. Everyone is staring at my Google Glass). However, not that many people have one (them?) yet. We'll see what happens when more people start wandering through the house shouting "Honey, have you seen my Google Glass(es)?"

11. iPad2s? iPads 2?

There's a short period of time after a new version of an electronic product comes out when people want to refer specifically to that version. They don't just want to talk about iPads or iPhones, but about iPad2s or iPhone5s. Or iPads 2 and iPhones 5? Of course, "version 2 iPads" and "version 5 iPhones" would be the most prudent choices, but when you're into Lexera, Mercedeses, Roleges, and Filets-O-Fish, who really cares about prudence? I say iPad2zees and iPhone5zees.

All images courtesy of Getty Images

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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
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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