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Profiles in Carnage: 4 Fictional Bullies

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I stole this short trip down magazine lane from Volume 3, Issue 4's Scatterbrained section on Bullies. Thought you guys might enjoy.


Name: Nelson Muntz (from "The Simpsons")

Sightings: Often seen pointing and laughing at things wherever there are things to be pointed and laughed at. Also, a strong presence on the playground.
Motto: "Ha-ha!"
Greatest Hits: Conscientious about the big picture. "We've been doing a lot of upper body work on Bart. Today let's pound his kidneys."
"Persuasiveness": While Nelson does great solo work, he also manages an effective team of delinquents. Definitely, one of the better bullies on the block.
Lisa [reading]: "Nuke the whales?" You don't really believe that, do you?
Nelson: I dunno. Gotta nuke something.

Name: Sensei John Kreese (of "Karate Kid" fame)

bully sensei.jpgSightings: Can always be spotted bossing around kids at the Cobra Kai Dojo.
Motto: "Strike first. Strike hard. No mercy."
Greatest Hits: Generally reserved for beating up his own students.
"Persuasiveness": Sure, he's intimidating with all that "no mercy" talk. And he can coerce little Johnny into sweeping legs. But he's hardly a menace if you've got Mr. Miyagi on your side. Just stay out of his Dojo.
Insight: Chuck Norris turned down the role of the Sensei because he didn't want karate instructors to be shown in an unsympathetic light.

Name: Moe (from "Calvin and Hobbes")

More bullies after the jump...

bully moe.jpgSightings: Often caught lurking in the hallway. Perfect gym and recess attendance.
Motto: "Give before it hurts."
Greatest Hits: Usually to the abdomen.
"Persuasiveness": Although his train of thought is generally stuck in the boarding station, Moe makes some fairly eloquent arguments with his fists. The fact that he's a 6 year old who shaves doesn't hurt.
Insight: Bill Watterson, Calvin's creator, claims, "I remember school being full of idiots like Moe. I think they spawn on damp locker room floors."

Name: Tommy "Butch" Bond ("The Little Rascals")

bullybond.jpgSightings: Slinking around anywhere the kids are trying to put on a show, with his sidekick "Woim" tagging along.
Motto: "I usually prove it by lickin' everybody "¦ but to save time, I'm just gonna lick the toughest one of ya."
Greatest Hits: Rarely has to resort to fisticuffs. His mean looks say it all.
"Persuasiveness": For four years, he kept the gang in check, usually picking on Alfalfa. Butch took on the hair-challenged singer in both the boxing ring and in the wrestling ring, and caused many a black eye in the Rascals' neighborhood.
Insight: Bond went on to play a good guy as Jimmy Olsen in scores of episodes of the "Superman" film serial beginning in 1948, but turned down the role on the TV version with George Reeves.

Got a favorite Fictional Bully that we missed? Write it in the comments below. And be sure to check out this and other back issues, available at the mental_floss store.

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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]