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A Dunder Mifflin Tour of Scranton

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Scranton, Pennsylvania, is a Mecca of sorts for fans of The Office, playing home to the fictional Dunder Mifflin Paper Company and the lovable cast of characters that work there. While the show is actually filmed in California, there are plenty of references to Scranton hangout spots sprinkled throughout the script. To see if these Office-endorsed locales are all they’re cracked up to be, I ventured on a tour-de-Electric City, Michael Scott-style.

Places that actually exist

Alfredo’s Pizza Café

In the episode “Launch Party,” Michael tries to win over his disgruntled employees by ordering takeout from their favorite pizzeria. Unfortunately (and predictably), he screws up. Instead of ordering from the delectable and popular Alfredo’s Pizza Café, he orders from Pizza by Alfredo’s — an eatery famous for cranking out pizza that tastes “like eating a hot circle of garbage,” in Kevin’s assessment.

While Pizza by Alfredo’s is fictional, Alfredo’s Pizza Café is a real restaurant in Scranton. It’s a classic sit-down Italian eatery that serves up a variety of salads, sandwiches, and pastas. To see if the pizza is truly the best slice in Scranton, I ordered a piece of thin crust for review. Friends and I collectively agreed that it was not like eating a hot circle of garbage, but perhaps not worth $2.25 a slice.

Chili’s

Michael Scott’s favorite restaurant will be forever memorialized in the minds of Office fans. It was the site of the Dundee’s award ceremony — when Pam got plastered and banned from the franchise. It’s also the location of Michael and Jan’s infamous first kiss following their antic-filled meeting with a crazy client played by Tim Meadows.

There isn’t actually a Chili’s in Scranton. However, people who want their baby back (baby back, baby back) ribs can find one just a fifteen-minute drive away in nearby Wilkes-Barre. The restaurant is. . . well, just like any other Chili’s.

Cooper’s Seafood

The Office name-drops Coopers about as often as Michael Scott makes a “that’s what she said” joke. And in the episode “Business Ethics,” Michael actually takes Holly there. In the typically absurd scene, he gestures wildly with a crab claw as he discusses whether he should report Meredith for sleeping with a client in exchange for steak coupons.

The real Cooper’s is a popular Scranton seafood house modeled after a pirate ship. When I stopped by, the restaurant was hopping — crowded and pleasantly noisy, punctuated by the odor of salty fish. The eatery is divided into several rooms, including the ship’s pub, the lighthouse bar, the tiki bar deck, the whale room, the train room, the original pub, and the private coral room. There’s also a gift shop that offers a hodgepodge of lobster shot glasses, Dunder Mifflin-themed paraphernalia, and fish puppets. If you’re ever in Scranton on your birthday, Cooper's will treat you to a free meal.

Electric City signs

In the episode "The Merger," Michael and Dwight make a rap video called “Lazy Scranton” to introduce their out-of-town colleagues to the Electric City. In the immortal words of Mr. Scott, “They call it that cuz of the electri-City.”

Well, sort of. Scranton is indeed called the Electric City. That’s because America’s first electric-operated trolley system was developed there in 1886. While the line is no longer in commission, the nickname stuck. There’s a huge Electric City sign downtown that lights up at night, as well as a colorful mural next to the overpass on the way into Scranton.

Froggy 101 Radio Station

Dwight’s a big fan of this country music station. He’s even got a Froggy 101 bumper sticker on his desk. There was also a Froggy 101 sticker on the desk of Michael’s boss during his stint at the telemarketing company.

The real Froggy 101 is a popular Scranton-based country-western station. I figured a drive to Office country wouldn’t be complete without tuning in to good ol’ 101.3FM to pump some beats. In the half-hour or so that I listened to the station, DJ Crockett played a nice mix of mainstream and countrified artists — Rascal Flatts, Bon Jovi, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, and Dierks Bentley. And of course, Kenny Chesney’s “No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems.”

Lackawanna Coal Mine/Anthracite Heritage Museum

Michael and Dwight’s infamous “Lazy Scranton” rap video features footage of the Anthracite Heritage Museum. And in the episode “Healthcare”, Michael considers taking his staff on a tour of the Lackawanna coal mines after promising them an exciting but unspecified surprise.

The Anthracite Heritage Museum is a real exhibit in Scranton. It commemorates the workers of the coal mining and textile industries -- which formed the economic backbone of northeastern PA . The museum features old mining tools, replicas of miners’ homes, and real mine cars. And if that’s not enough, there are coal mine tours just down the road. The tour takes viewers 300 feet underground into a mineshaft, where a “miner” guide shares anecdotes about the history of anthracite coal mining. (I arrived too late to take a tour but just in time to play on the coal mine trucks without getting kicked out by security.)

Poor Richard’s Pub

It’s probably the most famous hangout spot for The Office gang, mentioned in multiple episodes as a favorite happy-hour destination. In the episode “Cocktails", the crew heads to Poor Richard’s, where the staff is on a first-name basis with Meredith. Pam tells Roy that she kissed Jim, prompting him to trash the bar with his brother in a drunken rage.

While the scene was filmed at Pickwick’s Pub in California, the real Poor Richard’s is located inside a bowling alley teeming with kids and birthday balloons. But the bar itself is not as family-friendly. It’s small and dark with several tables, an arcade machine, and a few dartboards. When I stopped by on a Saturday at 6 p.m., the pub only had two customers, both middle-aged men.

Steamtown Mall

In “Women’s Appreciation,” Michael celebrates his office gal pals by taking them to Scranton’s premier shopping site: the Mall at Steamtown. After they help him work out his relationship problems with Jan, he treats them each to one item from Victoria’s Secret.

While the episode was filmed at a mall in Los Angeles, there is a Steamtown Mall in Scranton — and it embraces its role as the center of Office-Mania. There’s a large display featuring cardboard cutouts and Office memorabilia in one of the mall’s windows. The elevator is embossed with a huge picture of a Dwight Schrute bobblehead: Rainn Wilson is an honorary safety guard there.

Places that used to exist

Farley’s Pub

In the episode “Basketball,” the losers of the game between the warehouse guys and the office guys have to buy the winners dinner at Farley’s.

The real Farley’s was a popular pub in downtown Scranton. After the show became famous, Farley’s added a special Michael Scott burger to the menu. Sadly for Office fans (and Scrantonites), the iconic bar closed earlier this year.

The “Scranton Welcomes You” sign

This sign is featured prominently in the opening credits. It used to be located on the Central Scranton Expressway. But a few years ago, city officials decided to retire the sign and replace it with a new one. The old sign is currently hanging out at the Steamtown Mall, where Office aficionados can bask in its presence.

Places that are totally made up

Hooters

It’s another culinary staple for Michael Scott. In the episode "The Secret", he treats Jim to lunch there on the corporate account and cleverly orders a chicken breast – hold the chicken.

But while the restaurant chain plays a big role in The Office, there isn’t actually a Hooters in Scranton. The nearest one is over an hour away, making it an unlikely lunch-break destination for true Scrantonites.

Benihana

To help him get over a bad breakup with Carol, Andy takes Michael to the so-called “Asian Hooters” to help him drown his sorrows in sake shots.

While it made for a great Christmas episode (aptly titled “a Benihana Christmas”), there isn’t actually a Benihana in or near Scranton. The closest one is in New Jersey.

Scranton Business Park

Located at 1725 Slough Avenue, the location of Scranton’s most viable business ventures – Dunder Mifflin, Vance Refrigeration, and others – doesn’t actually exist. Slough is actually the name of the town where the British Office takes place.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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