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7 Smart Tips for Writing a Proper—and Professional—Thank You Note

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Think a post-job interview thank you note has gone the way of calling cards and phone books? Think again. Especially in the digital age, a handwritten message is a nice gesture, and an easy way to stand out in a pool of equally qualified applicants. It’s as simple as this: Be yourself, write it down, and get it in the mail, pronto. Here’s how.

1. STOP WASTING TIME.

When it comes to thanking an interviewer or potential boss for their time, don’t drag your feet. “Shooting them a note quickly doesn’t look desperate or needy—it looks interested,” says etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, who runs The Protocol School of Texas, a firm that specializes in etiquette training for corporations, universities, and individuals.

Her policy? Send a quick email later that day, then write a handwritten note within 24 hours. “Often, we worry about doing too much or too little,” she says. “And when that happens, we freeze.” Avoid stagnation by adopting this two-pronged approach for all professional and networking interactions.

2. YES, YOU REALLY SHOULD SEND A HANDWRITTEN THANK YOU.

You might be thinking that snail mail is so 1995. But after your initial email (which you’ll send, ideally, before close of business the day of your interview), get ready to put pen to paper. “It’s just a little bit of effort,” says Gottsman. “But if you’re neck-and-neck with another candidate, this could set you apart.” 

3. BUT FIRST, MAKE LIKE GRADE SCHOOL AND WRITE A ROUGH DRAFT.

Before you bust out the stationery, gather your thoughts. Feel free to write a quick draft on the computer, but also take a piece of scratch paper and actually write the message out. Write slowly. Write legibly. Bonus points if you trace an outline of your stationery onto a piece of printer paper or a memo pad, so you’ll see how the note will fit in the space available.

4. KEEP THE NOTE PROMPT AND MAKE THESE THREE KEY POINTS.

Thank the interviewer for his or her time, reiterate your interest in the opening, and draw a connection between your experience and the role. This thank-you won’t be all that different from your initial email, says Gottsman: “It’s okay to be a little bit repetitive here. By the time the person receives this thank-you, he or she might have met a handful of other candidates.”

Be yourself (your professional self, that is) and sincere—and don’t be afraid to show a little emotion or enthusiasm. “A hiring manager is looking for someone who’s competent, sure, but they’re also looking for someone who wants this job and plans to stay awhile,” she explains. Keep it short; if you’ve written more than six or so sentences, it’s too long. Open the note with “Dear” and close it with something simple, like “Sincerely" or “Best wishes.” This isn’t the place for a “Cheers” or a “Fingers crossed!”

5. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT. (SO DOES PROOFREADING.)

More likely than not, your penmanship has … suffered a bit as you’ve gotten older. These days, you might hand-write (or scribble) only the grocery list. So if you need to, write that rough draft a few times to practice your spacing. Once you’ve penned the note on stationery (more on that below), give it a thorough check. “Nobody’s going to ding you for messy handwriting, as long as they can read it,” Gottsman says. Will someone else be able to tell the difference between an o and an a? Is everything spelled correctly? If you don’t trust yourself, snap a photo of your note and email or text it to a trusted friend for a once-over.

6. INVEST IN SOME REAL STATIONERY.

“It doesn’t have to be expensive,” Gottsman says. “Your cardstock just needs to feel high quality and look professional.” Contrary to popular belief, the card itself needn’t say the words “Thank You!” A better choice: Your initials or monogram, your name, or a small symbol or icon. Keep it simple.

7. PAY ATTENTION TO EVERY DETAIL.

“In correspondence like this, everything counts,” Gottsman says. “I might not mean to judge you based on the stamp you used. But if your stamp is from, say, a holiday that took place weeks ago, that won’t go unnoticed.” (Ditto if you meter the mail at your current office.) Center the addressee on the envelope and write the return address neatly, too. If you mess up, use a new envelope—don’t merely scratch it out. And make sure the stamp isn’t askew. “These might seem like little things, but when you’re trying to make a great impression, your thank you note is part of your professional image and cache,” Gottsman explains. “Just like your tie, your blazer, or your portfolio.”

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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