CLOSE
Original image
IStock

The American Dialect Society's Word of the Year is 'They'

Original image
IStock

Every January at the annual convention of the American Dialect Society, a high-spirited crowd of linguists pack themselves into a conference room to passionately yet jovially argue for their favorites in the Word of the Year vote. Winners are chosen in various categories and the vote is held by a good, old-fashioned show of hands. Here are some of the words from last night's event.

THEY

They won for overall Word of the Year, not because it's a new word, but because it finally seems to be coming into its own as an accepted gender-neutral singular pronoun. This year the style guide of The Washington Post accepted singular they, and as time goes on more editing guidelines are bound to make the same change. While they has long been used as a pronoun for a person whose gender is unknown, it was chosen as Word of the Year particularly for its role as a pronoun for someone who wishes to avoid a binary gender distinction. Ben Zimmer, chair of the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, explained its appeal this way: “While many novel gender-neutral pronouns have been proposed, they has the advantage of already being part of the language.” It also won the category Most Useful.

MANBUN (MOST UNNECESSARY)

Of all the candidates for the Most Unnecessary Word—a field that included dadbod, or nah, trigger warning, and thanks Obamamanbun was deemed the least necessary because it may as well just be called a bun.

NETFLIX AND CHILL (MOST EUPHEMISTIC)

Defined as a "sexual come-on masked as a suggestion to watch Netflix and relax," one supporter cited the way it's given rise to a while new vocabulary of relationship progression. She had been informed by some of her students that "Netflix and chill" may be followed by "Hulu and commit."

TO GHOST (MOST LIKELY TO SUCCEED)

The verb to ghost, meaning "abruptly end a relationship by cutting off communication, especially online" was deemed more likely to succeed than its competitors CRISPR ("gene-editing technology allowing biologists to alter and control DNA sequences"), mom ("admiring term of address for a woman seen as a mother figure"), and the already-tired on fleek ("put together, impeccable, well-arrayed").

SITBIT (LEAST LIKELY TO SUCCEED)

If we've got Fitbit, why not sitbit, a device that rewards you for sitting around? This wordplay on the fitness tracking device craze was deemed not likely to stick around.

AMMOSEXUAL (MOST CREATIVE)

This coinage for "someone who loves firearms in a fetishistic manner" won out over the verb to adult, meaning behave like a grown up, as in "I just made a dentist appointment, put a roast in the oven, and finished my taxes. I am adulting so hard right now!"

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
arrow
technology
Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
Original image
iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES