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Seven Things I Didn't Know Were Illegal

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China's recent ban on reincarnation without government permission "“ "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation" "“ inspired our research editor extraordinaire Kara Kovalchik to dig up more examples of bizarre legislation on the books.

Being a Cow and Lacking ID in West Bengal, India

To prevent the smuggling of cattle into Bangladesh, Border Security Guards are issuing mandatory ID cards to cattle owners. The BBC explains: "Valid for two years, each laminated cattle ID card displays the picture of the animal and its owner. It also carries vital information about the animal, such as its color, height, sex and length of horns, the owner's name and address and sometimes other details about the animal "“ like one 'horn missing' or 'half tail lost.'"

This has not been easy on the cattle owners.

"I spent two whole days to get their pictures in a studio," Farid Hussain told the Toronto Star. "One of my cows damaged the lighting system of the studio and I had to pay 800 rupees "“ half of my month's income "“ in damages."

Wearing a Bullet-Proof Vest While Committing a Murder in New Jersey

bulletproof.jpgThou shall not kill. But if thou does, thou shall not have any unfair advantage. "A person is guilty of a crime if he uses or wears a body vest while engaged in the commission of...murder, manslaughter, robbery, sexual assault, burglary, kidnapping, criminal escape or assault."

Seeking West Virginia Political Office with a Duel on Your Resume

duel.jpgWest Virginians want elected officials who will metaphorically fight for their constituents. But not if they've ever actually fought. "Any citizen of this state who shall...fight a duel with deadly weapons, or send or accept a challenge so to do...or knowingly aid or assist in such duel, shall ever thereafter be incapable of holding any office of honor, trust or profit in this state."

Sagging Your Pants in Mansfield, Louisiana

sagging.jpgYou've got nine more days to show off your crazy, sexy and/or cool underwear in Mansfield, a Louisiana town of 5,500 located forty miles south of Shreveport. Starting September 15th, anyone caught wearing sagging pants that expose underwear will be subject to a fine of up to $150 plus court costs "“ or face up to 15 days in jail.

Discouraging the Use of Manual Flushing Devices for Urinals in Utah

urinal.JPGKeeping with yesterday's public restroom theme, don't let the Utah government tell you you can't flush it yourself. "The department shall not promulgate any rules which either directly or indirectly prohibit the use of manual flushing devices for urinals. The department shall take steps to encourage the use of manual flushing devices for urinals." Power to the pee-ers.

Wearing a Hooded Sweatshirt in the Bluewater Shopping Center in Kent, England

dukesweatshirt.jpgI would imagine you can find hooded sweatshirts for sale somewhere within this massive shopping mecca. But don't get caught trying one on. Since 2005, Bluewater has banned hooded tops and baseball hats to prevent thuggish teens from hiding their true identities from security cameras. I guess the mall security detail does not have the power to enact actual legislation, so this is more of a code-of-conduct kind of thing. Regardless, they've also banned swearing.

Chewing Gum Without a Prescription in Singapore

singapore.jpgSingapore's 1994 caning of American Michael Fay was a big international incident to me. Even though I rarely left New Jersey, I was terrified of accidentally winding up in Singapore and breaking a law I didn't know existed. Fay's punishment was for vandalism, but every news story seemed to mention Singapore's strict war on gum. The penalty for smuggling gum was a year in jail and a $5,500 fine. So this one I knew, but hadn't heard the latest.

As part of a 2003 trade deal with the United States "“ with lots of help from the powerful gum lobby "“ Singapore agreed to relax the ban. However, gum is only allowed with a medical prescription.

For more weird laws, check out Becky's previous post on this subject and all the great comments underneath. And if you know of or have been cited for breaking any strange laws, keep the list going.

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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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