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15 Words That Don't Mean What They Used To

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ThinkStock

Want to make conversations more fun? Consider the former meaning of these everyday words.

1. Ejaculate

Used to mean: To utter suddenly and passionately, to exclaim

The unintended double entendres in this sentence of Jane Eyre could make anyone snicker: "The sleepers were all aroused: ejaculations, terrified murmurs sounded in every room; door after door unclosed; one looked out and another looked out; the gallery filled." Still, the old-school and modern definitions are pretty synonymous.

2. Myriad

Used to mean: 10,000

Before people were debating whether "myriad" is a noun or adjective (it's both), Greek mathematicians gave it the numeral M and were extremely specific about what it meant. Think a myriad is a lot to count? Try the myriad myriad (MM) or 100 million, the largest number in ancient Greece.

3. Buxom

Used to mean: Meek, obedient

Hmmm... Not how we'd describe Beyoncé.

4. Dapper

Used to mean: Heavy-set

Not how we'd describe George Clooney, either.

5. Heartburn

Used to mean: Jealousy or hatred

"Heartburn" hasn't ever actually involved the heart. It once referred to feelings that come from the mind. Now it describes an issue with your stomach or esophagus.

6. Brothel

Used to mean: A low-life

In Middle English, "brothel" described the kind of person who'd cheat, steal, and ... possibly frequent a bordello.

7. Inmate

Used to mean: A tenant or housemate

Try posting an "Inmate Wanted" ad on Craigslist today and see what happens.

8. Balderdash

Used to mean: A frothy liquid

We swear this isn't a board game bluff.

9. Charisma

Used to mean: A divinely conferred gift or power

In the past, people with charisma could really work a room, restoring sight to the blind and other such miracles. Today, believers in Charismatic Christianity still believe in signs, prophecy, and divine healing. The root of it all: the Greek word kharis, for "god-given favor."

10. Bully

Used to mean: Superb, wonderful

When Theodore Roosevelt referred to the presidency as a bully pulpit, he wasn't talking about name-calling, harassment, or beating anyone with a big stick. He was praising the social change he might shape in office. Bully for him!

11. Matrix

Used to mean: The womb

Morpheus was right. We've all lived in the Matrix.

12. Defecate

Used to mean: To purify something

From the Latin defæcatus, which translates to "cleanse from dregs," this definition still makes sense. Still, you'd probably decline if someone offered you a glass of defecated water.

13. Diaper

Used to mean: A white fabric with small diamond-shaped figures

There was nothing embarrassing about adult diapers back in the day. The Greek root diaspros meant "pure white."

14. Artificial

Used to mean: Full of artistic and technical skill

Think about it: It takes a lot of skill to reproduce a flower in silk or realistic-feeling latex.

15. Awful

Used to mean: Commanding awe

Here's an awfully good example from Moby Dick: "There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seems to speak of some hidden soul beneath..."

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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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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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