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14 Old Abstract Nouns We Need to Bring Back

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English has a few suffixes that can make abstract nouns out of adjectives. There’s the relatively rare –cy, which turns fluent into fluency and idiot into idiocy, and there’s the more common –ty or –ity that gives us certainty, subtlety, absurdity and the like. The only one that is truly productive however, able to make a noun out of almost anything in English, is –ness. We can talk about hunky-doryness, pumped-upness or even lolwhutness without too much awkwardness. In the past couple of decades the –ty ending has acquired a certain amount of productivity in words like bogosity or awesomosity, but the productive use of ty has a more humorous effect than –ness, which has to do with the fact that –ty comes to English through Latin and French influence and carries overtones of, shall we say, pretentiosity, ostentatiosity, and ridiculosity.

These –ty coinages have a slangy, modern ring to them but English speakers have actually been trying to make –ty happen for centuries. There are a number of old abstract nouns in the Oxford English Dictionary that, for whatever reason, and tragically, became obsolete. Here are 14 of them we need to bring back.

1. Debonairity: Old French had debonaireté and English took it to make debonairity. Why we ever lost this one, I cannot say.

2. Earnesty: used a bit in the 16th century for earnestness.

3. Enviousty: The OED gives only one example from the 14th century. It might have done better as enviosity.

4. Fewty: An obsolete Scottish term for just what it says “the condition of being few.”

5. Fiercety: First citation 1382, and while fierceness had an edge from the beginning, fiercety continued to show up occasionally in examples like “The Northyn wynde blewe with suche fyerste” (1513).

6. Graciosity: From the French gracieuseté. Graciousness is nice, but graciosity is nicer.

7. Heavity: We’ve got levity, so why not heavity? Chaucer liked it.

8. Nervosity: It certainly sounds more nervous than nervousness. This one was used more in the sense of neuroticism. In the words of psychologist Willam James (1890), “There is no real evidence that physical refinement and nervosity tend to accumulate from generation to generation in aristocratic or intellectual families.”

9. Outrageousty: So much more outrageous than outrageousness. Too bad it fell out of use after the 15th century.

10. Rigorosity: Is your English department known for its rigorosity? Then they should be familiar with this word.

11. Rudity: All the better to rhyme with crudity. Use this one to poetify your rants.

12. Seemlity: You already sound a bit fancy if you use the word seemliness. Just imagine how much fancier you’ll sound if you use seemlity instead.

13. Seriosity: You can use this one in all seriosity … but people might laugh.

14. Terribility: Terribleness is a pretty bad quality to have, but terribility? That’s terrifying.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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