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Six Cool Plants I Would Find A Way To Kill

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When we bought our first house last year, funny things started happening to me. I found myself subscribing to every Martha Stewart-esque magazine I could get my hands on (and the anti-Martha"¦I highly recommend ReadyMade).

A part of this new, domesticated me included a completely newfound urge to garden. Guess what? My thumb didn't get any greener when we acquired a mortgage. I've killed pumpkins, grown a tomato-free tomato plant, and demolished not one, not two, but three hanging baskets of different varieties. I'm working on a fourth.

Despite killing everything I touch, I'm still determined to get some cool plants. Below are a few that I look forward to brutally massacring sometime in the near future.

Plant: The Sensitive Plant

What Makes it Cool: When the plant is touched, its leaves immediately fold together. They do the same thing at night due to the absence of light.

How I Will Eventually Kill it: Probably by letting it stay out on our porch too late in the season. The Sensitive Plant suffers when temperatures drop below 65 degrees.

(Also known as the TickleMe Plant, the Shame Plant and the Prayer Plant)

Plant: The Bladderwort

What Makes it Cool: It's carnivorous. Any organism that gets too close to the tiny hairs on the bladderwort will trigger the trap and thus be sucked into the bladder chamber of the plant, where it starts to be digested. Although it sounds like something out of Little Shop of Horrors, the trap is so tiny that it can only catch small insects like mosquito larvae.

How I Will Eventually Kill it: It's mainly aquatic, so chances are pretty good that I will try to plant it in soil.

Plant: The Corpse Lily

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What Makes it Cool: It smells like decaying flesh or rotting meat. And it's actually kind of ugly. And it has no leaves or stems. And it only blooms for a week every year. OK, it's just a really strange plant.

How I Will Eventually Kill it: I will never get a shot at this one, actually, because it's endangered and only grows in the rain forests of Sumatra and in the Malay Archipelago in Borneo.

Plant: The Walking Iris

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What Makes it Cool: New plantlets develop where the previous flowers were on the Iris. The stalk keeps growing, though, so as the plantlet grows, its weight draws the stalk down to the ground. When the plantlet finally rests on the ground, it roots there. This makes it look like the Iris is "walking" across the yard.

How I Will Eventually Kill it: It grows in clumps up to five feet wide, so I imagine I will mow over it at some point.

Plant: The Money Plant, AKA the Honesty Plant

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What Makes it Cool: It grows flattened pods that look like silver dollars and make cool rustling noises in a breeze.

How I Will Eventually Kill it: It's listed as a "beginner" plant, which means it should be easy to grow. "Easy to grow" is pretty much the kiss of death for me. I killed a philodendron.

Plant: Resurrection Fern

What Makes It Cool: It knows how to play dead. During drought periods, the fern goes grey and curls up, appearing to be completely dead. When it receives even a tiny bit of water, it turns lush and green again. Some have estimated that it could be resurrected after up to 100 years.

How I Will Eventually Kill it: I think even I can't fully kill something that can resurrect itself.

Previously on mental_floss:

Welcome To The Gun Show
From Dumb To Deadly: The World's Worst Toys
12 College Classes We Wish Our Schools Had Offered
The First Time News Was Fit To Print
Six Canned Foods We're Reluctant To Try
Feel Art Again: Stuff You Might Not Know About The Mona Lisa

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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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