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9 Ways of Saying "Stupid" Across the United States

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You could call someone stupid, or you could say he hasn't the sense to find his rear-end with both hands and a roadmap. "She's an idiot!" you could proclaim, or, "If her brains were dynamite, she wouldn't have enough to blow her nose." Get smart about how to say "stupid" with these nine regional idioms brought to you in our continued partnership with the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE).

1. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO COME IN OUT OF THE RAIN

When DARE surveyed readers to complete the sentence "He hasn't sense enough to," the phrase "come in out of the rain" got the most responses. It also has a slew of variations, including get in out of the rain, come in out of the wet, and get out of a shower of rain.

2. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO GREASE A GIMLET

A gimlet, in addition to being a delicious cocktail, is a tool used for boring. So someone who doesn’t think to grease one isn’t the sharpest gimlet in the toolbox. According to DARE, you might hear this put-down in Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, and New York.

3. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO BELL A BUZZARD

Why would anyone want to bell a buzzard, and why would you be considered a numbskull if you didn't think to do so? Alternates of this saying include bell a bull or cow, which make more sense. But a buzzard? DARE says belling and releasing these birds of prey was an occasional practice, at least according to “scattered 19th- and early 20th-century accounts, and that such birds were regarded by some with superstitious fear.” But there’s no explanation as to why “the practice should have been regarded as self-evidently desirable or simple.”

4. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO POUND SAND DOWN A RATHOLE

The same seems to go for pounding sand down a rathole, something you’ll hear chiefly west of the Mississippi River, according to DARE, and in the North Central region and upstate New York. The idiom pound sand means to waste time or act ineffectively. The Oxford English Dictionary’s earliest citation is from 1857; slang expert Jonathan Green says that it might be a euphemistic shortening of go pound sand up one’s ass. However, like belling a buzzard, why pounding sand down a rathole would be considered basic isn’t clear.

5. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO POUR PISS OUT OF A BOOT

Or, if you want to get even more colorful, pump piss out of a boot with the directions on the heel. Dumping urine from footwear before putting it on definitely seems smart, but we wonder how the pee got in there in the first place.

6. NOT ENOUGH SENSE TO CARRY GUTS TO A BEAR

This odd expression might be heard in Maine, New Hampshire, Maryland, Virginia, and Louisiana. There's also he’s not fit to carry guts to a bear, or he's unable “to do the most menial or simple task.” The idea might come from old-timey bear-baiting days, when carrying innards to the poor beasts was apparently elementary. The OED’s earliest citation is from 1692: “Wee, the Kings Officers, crys the Fellow that carrys Guts to the Bears.”

7. NOT TO KNOW B FROM A BULL’S FOOT

This expression meaning someone “ignorant or illiterate” is chiefly used in the South and Midland regions, perhaps from the idea that “the foot- or track-print of a bull is somewhat like the letter B,” or perhaps simply as a colorful play on not knowing A from B. Varieties include not to know bee from a bull’s foot, not to know beeswax from bull foot, and not to know beef from bull’s foot.

8. NOT TO KNOW SPLIT BEANS FROM COFFEE

In the South Midland and Texas, you might say this of someone who is “very ignorant or stupid.” From a December 2005 issue of the Austin American-Statesman: “Former Rep. Barry Telford of DeKalb [TX], a Democratic leader under Laney, said: ‘Bush didn’t know split beans from coffee about the Legislature when he was first elected.’”

9. NOT TO KNOW SIC 'EM

You’ll hear this ignoramus phrase in the Inland North, the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, and Upper Midwest. But what does “sic 'em” mean? William Safire explored this back in 1993 when then Senate Republican Leader Bob Dole told him, "Those guys in the White House just don't know sic 'em.” Safire put in a call to DARE and found out that at least one reader thought someone who doesn’t know sic 'em is as lazy and shiftless as a dog who shows no “instant reaction to the command ‘sic 'em.’”

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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
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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