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Four (former) Interns and the Employers Who Won't Rehire Them

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My days as a mental_floss intern are over. My adoring fans may have noticed that the "Intern" has been dropped from my byline and my workload has decreased to "occasional contributor" status. Unlike these guys, though, I left my internship on my own terms and Mangesh and Jason appreciated my work enough to let me stay on. Here's a look at four interns who didn't do as well during their employment.

The Employer: Roseanne Barr

First off, who knew that Roseanne offered an internship? She may not anymore, though, after her experience this summer. She had to fire her intern, whose identity is still shrouded in secrecy, in early August after they posted some obscene comments on her MySpace page. The rambling posts (check out one here), which were written from Roseanne's point of view, touched on her desire to get a shotgun and smell like urine, "like old ladies are meant to." Roseanne responded swiftly, firing the intern and apologizing to fans, reminding them that she only posts on her official blog. Three hours, later, though, she wrote another jokey post, saying that the fired intern had also stolen her sex tape and she was offering up a reward for its return. I'll allow time for you to get rid of the vomit taste from your mouth.

The Employer: The State of Ohio

It was a big deal earlier this summer when the news broke that a computer tape with the names, Social Security numbers and possibly bank account information for 1.1 million Ohio residents. After some investigating, the state managed to figure out who was responsible for losing the tape: Jared Ilovar, a 22-year-old intern. Turns out he had taken the tape home with him and left it in his car one night. Unfortunately, this happened to be the same night he was the victim of a random car theft. As the intern working on the new payroll and purchasing system, he was given the glamorous task of taking home one of two computer tapes, a job that really belongs to a network administrator. Ilovar was fired by governor Ted Strickland (hey, at least get fired by the big guy) after refusing to resign and still holds out hope that the state will consider taking him back. Strickland has assured that they won't.

The employer: Wes Anderson

ex_teamzissouintern.jpgMatthew Gray Gubler is the rare intern who's bumbling actually translated into a better job. Gubler described himself as "maybe the worst intern in history," after working for director Wes Anderson. He's related tales of trying to buy couscous without know what it was (it's this, in case you're ever in the same boat) and trying to deliver a large painting to Bill Murray after drinking. Still, Gubler didn't get fired, he got a perm. And then he got a role in Anderson's movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, playing, of course, a bumbling intern.

The Employer: Rep. Denny Rehberg, R Montana

As the lone representative from Montana, Rehberg must have been a little hard up for finding help, so he hired Todd Shriber, a Texas Christian University graduate with less-than-stellar grades to be a press aide. Shriber apparently wasn't happy with his grades, so he took steps to fix them. To the embarrassment of the Congressman, those steps involved contacting to find hackers who would break into the TCU system and change his GPA. The supposed hackers, "Lyger" and "Jericho," led Shriber along for 22 email messages, then published the entire exchange. The last email had Lyger warning "we are SO busted." Shriber was ultimately fired and apologized for acting so out of character. His GPA remains as low as it was before, but that probably won't be the thing that doesn't get him hired.

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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]