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12 Words For The Insufferably Vain

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Vanity is more visible than ever in these selfie-saturated days, but being a preening peacock or conceited coxcomb has never been out of style. There are many older, out-of-use words for people who can only be pried away from a mirror with the jaws of life. So please use these words next time you have to describe a self-obsessed huff-snuff.


The Oxford English Dictionary defines this rhyming word as “a conceited fellow who gives himself airs and is quick to take offence; a braggart, hector.” The idea is that the person is huffing and snuffing in an exaggerated fashion with their nose in the air, outraged by any affront to their precious person. Like all reduplicative words—including namby-pamby and higgledy-piggledyhuff-snuff is awesome.


A glass-gazing ninnyhammer is always looking in a mirror. Shakespeare used the term in damning fashion in King Lear, describing: “A whorson glassegazing superfinicall rogue.” Ouch.


This word has had several meanings, mostly related to the weather, but in the late 1800s airish joined words such as blowhard and bloviate in the gaseous lexicon of invective. Mark Twain used the term in an 1874 letter, writing “I shall be as uppish & airish as any third-rate actor whose name is not made loud enough in the bills.” That’s about as uppy and airy as it gets.


The image of a nose in the air is hard to beat when it comes conceit, but this type of conceit is specific: It has to do with an overestimation of one’s intelligence. But this word has some other meanings that are less insulting. A nose-wise person sometimes simply has a quick wit. Other times they have a superior sense of smell.


No less than Shakespeare used this term—in Hamlet—via the memorable noun phrase “a very very pajock.” This word for a peacock or popinjay isn’t used much, but it’s usually an allusion to Shakespeare. Back in 1954, C. S. Lewis asked a very good question: “Have we no more gravity among us than to be so chafed by the taunt of a pajock?”


A Scottish word, the jaunty term vaunty has been around since the 1700s, describing vain varlets and boastful buffoons. Vaunty springs from an out-of-use sense of vaunt as a verb meaning to brag, and it’s related to vaunted.


Though skipjack sounds like an unreliable lumberjack, it has a slightly less rugged meaning that is worth quoting the OED in full: “A pert shallow-brained fellow; a puppy, a whipper-snapper; a conceited fop or dandy.” (Fun fact: Puppy has sometimes been a word for an attention hog. Novelist Frances Burney used the term in a 1775 letter: “He is conceited, self-sufficient, and puppyish.”)


This is a term from the U.S. south for someone who has gotten not only too big for their britches, but too big for the whole britches store, figuratively. The biggity are big-headed.


Speaking of major-league melons, Green’s Dictionary of Slang lists this vivid variation of the idiom “have a big head.” This massive slang dictionary includes an 1886 use in The Policeman’s Lantern by James Greenwood: “Strange how some men get their skulls swelled when they get on the force.”


This term plays on older meaning of side as referring to arrogance and general full-of-yourself-ness. People would say an arrogant jerk was putting on side. From there, you could say the vain or puffed-up are sidey.


This sibling of whipper-snapper has a slightly different sense. Both words are dismissive of youths, but snipper-snapper also has a suggestion of conceitedness, as seen in a definition in an 1854 glossary compiled by A.E. Baker: “Snipper-snapper, a small, insignificant, effeminate, self-conceited young man.” This term is apparently a little older than whipper-snapper, but it hasn’t fared as well in the Darwinian lexical race.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]