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25 Words Turning 25 in 2017

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If you were born in 1992, not only are you as old as the Mall of America, the nicotine patch, and Super Mario Kart, you got to grow up with these words, all dated by first citation to 1992 in the Oxford English Dictionary.

1. VACAY

It was a time when people started going on vacation before the vacation even started by clipping off a whole syllable and saying they were going on vacay.

2. TRUSTAFARIAN

This blend of trust fund and Rastafarian got a first mention in the Washington Times, where it was defined as a “guy who has long hair and a trust fund, drives a Saab or Jeep, listens to reggae, and doesn't let a whole lot bother him.”

3. PHOTOSHOP (VERB)

The image editing program Photoshop was released in 1990. By 1992, the name had become a verb, to Photoshop.

4. SQUOVAL

This blend of square and oval was formed to name the hot manicure style of 1992, a squared-off oval nail shape.

5. SKEEZY

First there was sleazy, which has been around since 1644. In 1976, we got skeevy, and after we added skeeze in 1989, it was inevitable that we’d come around to skeezy eventually.

6. SADSTER

According to the OED, a sadster is “a pathetic or contemptible person.” According to the Urban Dictionary it’s “an emo dude who is always downbeat, yet more earnest and cooler than you. Basically a hipster sad-sack.”

7. POLYAMORY

This term for “the fact of having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals” first appeared in a 1992 proposal for a new Usenet group on the subject.

8. ON MESSAGE

Politicians and organizations have always come up with plans to get their positions across to the public, but it wasn’t until 25 years ago that they referred directly to those plans with comments about staying on message.

9. METAVERSE

Metaverse, from meta-universe, became a term for virtual worlds after it was introduced by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash.

10. MEH

The word meh was not invented in 1992. It’s a Yiddishism that goes back a long way. But it first shows up in attested written form in a 1992 Usenet post about the TV show Melrose Place with “Meh … far too Ken-doll for me.”

11. INTERNAUT

Just 25 years ago, we needed a special term for a habitual internet user. This blend of internet and astronaut was the answer. Now we don’t need a special word for this, because it’s all of us.

12. GRRRL

This blend of grrr and girl was first applied to the "riot girl" feminist punk movement. By 1992, it was a general term for “a young woman perceived as strong or aggressive, esp. in her attitude to men or in her expression of feminine independence and sexuality.”

13. BIOHACKING

The ethical problem of renegade hobbyists playing around with genes was something worrying enough to warrant the creation of the term biohacking in 1992.

14. FRANKEN-

The new possibilities of genetic manipulation also gave rise to the idea of “Frankenstein food”—food that had been irradiated or genetically modified. In 1992, the Franken- detached and became its own prefix in words like Frankenfood and Frankenfruit.

15. ALTERNA-

Another prefix achieved independence from alternative in 1992. First applied to music styles like alternapop, alterna-rock, and alterna-metal, it also became a way to describe alternadads and alternateens who were into alternathings.

16. FASHIONISTA

The '90s supermodel years brought the whole fashion industry into the popular imagination, and this term, so much more worldly and evocative than “fashion industry employee,” gained its high-heeled foothold in the vocabulary.

17. DIGERATI

The '60s gave us the idea of the jet-setting glitterati, and the '90s gave us the digerati, from digital + literati, for the computing and information technology class.

18. CYBERWAR

The first new word coinages with cyber- (from the 1948 term cybernetic) started in the 1960s, but cyberwar gets its first print citation with a 1992 Chicago Sun-Times article header: “Cyberwar debate: a new generation of ‘brilliant weapons’ has sparked a debate between scientists and the military about who should wage war, man or machine.”

19. BOOTYLICIOUS

The original citation for bootylicious is from a 1992 line rapped by the then-called Snoop Doggy Dogg (“Them rhymes you were kickin were quite bootylicious”) where it had a negative meaning—weak. Later it came to be a positive word for shapely and attractive.

20. BADASSERY

Badass had been around since 1955, but in 1992, it got extended into the abstract noun for the whole general quality of being a badass.

21. ACHY-BREAKY

Billy Ray Cyrus had a hit with his 1992 song “Achy Breaky Heart,” and achy breaky went on to a life of meaning generally sad in a country, twangy, way.

22. EATERTAINMENT

This blend of eat and entertainment was formed to put a simple label on a new '90s trend of theme restaurants that included entertainment, memorabilia, and gift shops.

23. RESTOBAR

Another blend for a type of bar/nightclub that also serves food, from restaurant + bar plus a hip, European feel.

24. TURNTABLIST

A DJ might spin records, but in 1992, the manipulation of the turntables for effect with scratching, mixing, etc. was elevated to its own type of art from with the word turntablist.

25. URL

The Uniform Resource Locator, a format for specifying a web address, wasn't yet a standard in 1992, but it was mentioned, and called a URL, in a 1992 electronic mailing list post of minutes from an Internet Engineering Task Force meeting.

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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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May 23, 2017
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