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When Hell Froze Over

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How the Hells Angels Conquered Canada

Canadians don't appear to be scared of anything. They don't carry guns, they don't lock their front doors—heck, they probably even allow their kids play outside after dark. But our northern neighbors aren't exactly frolicking around in a crime-free world the way the media might have you believe. In fact, during the past 30 years, Canada has been terrorized by an influx of biker gangs that act less like hog-riding hooligans and more like Corleone-worthy mafia men.
In all fairness, this new wave of Canadian crime is fueled by an unmistakably American export. Motorcycle gangs in the United States—at least these days—are often romanticized in the Kerouac tradition of life on the open road or confused as clubs of harmless motorcycle enthusiasts. Groups such as the Hells Angels don't make headlines much these days. As such, they seem like shadows of an age long past. And even though American motorcycle gangs are still alive and well today (and most of them are still up to no good), they're hardly the national threat they are in Canada. There, they've taken center stage, living up to their intimidating image with intermittent rashes of shootings, knifings, and even bombings.

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The War of Northern Aggression
In the late 1970s, the Hells Angels were thriving in the States under the leadership of Sonny Barger, a founding member of the Angels' original chapter in Fontana, Calif., and arguably the most famous Hells Angel in history. The group was reported to be deeply involved in drug smuggling, prostitution, and extortion, and Barger saw opportunity for the Angels in Montreal, where the local gangs were less organized and local authorities less prepared to resist the group's presence. So, in 1977, Barger established the first Canadian chapter of the Hells Angels in Montreal. Almost immediately, they began muscling their way to supremacy, reorganizing the country's homegrown biker gangs into well-disciplined bands of killers.
But dominating the biker scene wasn't always easy. In many regions—specifically Québec—the Hells Angels had to fight turf wars with rival gangs such as the Outlaws and Bandidos. That's when things started getting bloody, and that's when Yves "Apache" Trudeau came into the picture. One of the original Canadian Hells Angels, Trudeau was a notorious drug addict and psychopath. In his quest for Angel dominance, Trudeau was rumored to single-handedly have killed 43 people and to have played a part in the murder of 40 others. By 1985, more than 100 people had died as a result of biker-gang violence.
After that, Trudeau became the face of les Hells, as the Angels were known in French Canada. But during the latter half of the 1980s, the group began turning on itself. Still under Trudeau's leadership, various chapters of Angels started vying for power in certain areas and fighting to control the spoils of crime. In one instance, five Angels were murdered by members of a rival chapter, their bodies dumped in the St. Lawrence River. The killers had hoped to murder Trudeau as well, but he escaped. Seeking sanctuary, Trudeau did the unthinkable and turned to the police, instigating one of the biggest biker busts in Canadian history. In exchange for a reduced sentence, Trudeau sent 50 of his fellow Angels down the river.
In the aftermath of Trudeau's arrest, only two of Québec's five chapters remained. Police thought the Hells Angels were finished, but they were wrong. It was only a matter of time before a new leader emerged on the biker scene. This time, it was Maurice Boucher, better known as "Mom" (because he liked to make breakfast for his fellow Angels).
Boucher expanded the Hells Angels presence in Canada even further. Looking to smuggle huge drug shipments into North America, local chapters of the Angels infiltrated major ports in Vancouver, Montreal, and Halifax. By 2000, Boucher's drug network in Montreal was purportedly trafficking more than $100 million a year in cocaine, hashish, and marijuana (that's according to the gang's own computer records, by the way). But with expansion came more territorial warfare "¦ and more violence. Between 1994 and 2001, another 165 people died as a result of motorcycle-gang violence.

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Canadian Crackdown
Throughout the 1980s and much of the 1990s, the growth of biker crime in Canada caught police officials completely off guard. Traditionally, authorities had been willing to let criminals do their own thing as long as they didn't hurt the general population. But with "Mom" Boucher at the helm, it became clear that biker-gang violence wasn't going to be limited to back-alley brawls and bar fights.
The reality of the situation quickly came to light in 1995 after a car bomb (linked to a motorcycle gang) tragically killed an 11-year-old boy in Québec. Then, in 1997, Boucher was charged with murdering two prison guards, and one of his henchmen shot a journalist six times in the back. Finally, after police found a hit list that included the names of judges, prosecutors, and politicians, it became clear the Hells Angels were at war with the state.
Panicked, the government launched a massive crackdown. Canadian authorities enacted anti-gang laws, doubled police-force budgets, and paid informants were assigned to infiltrate the Hells Angels. Then, on March 28, 2001, the authorities scored a victory. In a massive raid, hundreds of officers arrested 128 members of the Hells Angels, including "Mom" Boucher. The bikers were charged with murder, conspiracy, assault, and drug trafficking, and the Hells Angels were officially declared an organized crime ring. Two and a half years later, all the outlaw bikers were convicted and given sentences ranging from eight to 25 years. Boucher, at the age of 52, received two life sentences.
The effort was a major coup for Canadian police, but it was hardly the final chapter for the Hells Angels. The group was so firmly entrenched in the nation's underbelly that no amount of jail time seemed to affect their ability to recruit new members. The good news is that, these days, biker-gang violence is mostly contained to the underground crime world and doesn't pose an immediate threat to average citizens or tourists. The bad news? The Angels are now more powerful in Canada than in any other country. So, despite all its peace-loving, maple-leaf goodness, the country remains the unlikely new stomping grounds for motorcycle gangs "¦ and their crime.

This story was written by William Marsden and originally ran mental_floss magazine volume 4, issue 6.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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