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Best comments ever, vol. 2

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Due to overwhelming demand, "best comments ever" is back, and "evar" is now spelled "ever." ("Evar!" is the excited Valley Girl pronunciation of "ever," fwiw.) Yesterday we heard stories about people being sick, losing their sense of smell, sleepwalking and hoarding animals. Today we'll start by examining two posts about cars, which tend to elicit very passionate responses from our readership!

THE POST: Who gets the parking space?
Having posed the question of whether you can save a parking spot by standing in it, we got vehement responses on both sides of the issue, as well as a few harrowing stories, like this one from commenter Karen:

I experienced this firsthand many years ago as my mom and I were searching for a parking spot during the crazy day-after-Thanksgiving shopping rush. The situation escalated into one like your second experience - only my mom did not actually hit her and this girl DID call the police. She faked a limp and the officer believed her and arrested my mom.

THE POST: This really happens
Not long ago, a friend of mine drove away from a pumping station without removing the nozzle from his tank -- he wasn't paying attention -- and it snapped right off. Of course, the same thing had happened to several of our readers, with somewhat more dramatic results. Commenter Michael Wild:

Happened to me. Driving 1 ton Ford dually with trailer. Gas gauge unreliable and I was very worried about running out of diesel fuel. Pulled into truck stop and every pump but one had a bag over the pump handle. I pulled up to the one pump w/o a bag and put the nozzle in my tank. Nothing happened. I went inside and was informed that they had no diesel. I was pissed, got in the truck and drove off. Heard someone yelling, looked back and saw I was trailing the nozzle, hose and wiring from the pump. Owner was very upset and would not let me leave until I paid damages. At my suggestion he called law enforcement. They came, inspected my insurance papers and informed owner he was illegally restraining me. It was a matter for the insurance companies. Truck stop shut down and never reopened.

Pump jockey Petro Pierre was kind enough to provide some behind-the-scenes perspective:

Got my nickname "Petro" from the many years I spent pumping gas for a living. I saw this happen only a few times since it was a full service station. The first time was a really big deal! The customer asked for $20, which I starting pumping and left to finish on its own (since the pump was programmed for preset amounts at the push of a button, $20 being one of them). As I went to serve other customers, the fellow went inside to pay the cashier inside, who took his money once the pump automatically stopped at $20. It all happened very quickly, and he got back into his car and started driving away without waiting for me to remove the hose (obviously assuming it was already done). Unfortunately neither the handle nor the hose snapped off. It was a terrible sounds as the WHOLE FUEL PUMP came tearing off its foundation and crashed on its side, spewing a quick gusher of fuel before the shutoff valve kicked in. Needless to say, he didn't get very far, but I think our station swallowed the tab on that one.

THE POST: The not-silent killer: noise pollution
Our readers made a lot of noise over this one, sparking a mini-competition to see who lived in the loudest place. It was a toss up between itsabecky:

i live in what appears to be the average suburban community. we have the standard noises: children playing in the street, occasional dogs barking, birds chirping, etc. then there are all of the non-traditional suburban noises. my neighbor accross the street has 6 cars and seems to wash at least one every day then has to dry them with his leaf blower. my house is conviently situated in the middle of 3 quarrys so we often hear them blasting and on occasion feel the house shake. when we first moved in there was a race track 2 miles from our house and on race days it sounded like we were living inside a beehive.

inside the house often sounds like a circus. 4 dogs, 4 laptops, 4 adults, a screaming 4 year old and a TV that is always on (at full volume to try and combat the other noise in the house) all create so much noise and havoc that i often find myself looking for any excuse to get out of the house (i go for a lot of drives to no where just listening to the hum of the tires on the road). i seem to be the only one in the house that is bothered by the noise. sometimes i feel like all the noise scrambles my brain.

... and commenter Marta, whose noise is more neighbor-driven:

I live in a duplex. The lady on the other side had 2 emotionally handicappped foster children that, up until a few weeks ago, screamed, slammed doors, threw dirt on our cars, and would put the same annoying hip-hop or pop song on repeat on the porch stereo, crank it up, then disappear for hours. On top of that she has a tiny dog that the kids put outside for hours and it spends those hours continuously barking. I didn't think it was physically possible for a dog to bark for 5 hours straight without a rest.

THE POST: What's worse than snakes on a plane?
Speaking of people's tolerance for noise and annoyance, there was an outpouring of pure venom when I brought up the dilemma of mixing small children and large aircraft. There were plenty of arguments in favor of doping kids with Benadryl and Dimetapp, and several against. (Studies that have come out since this blog was posted indicate that it's a bad idea to give young kids cold medicine, so I'm going to have to side with the no-doping camp, no matter how annoying the transatlantic toddler.) We all felt the pain of commenter Ben Hubbard:

Allow me to set the stage. I'm flying from KY on the very first available flight (5:00a), so I'm a bit sleepy. My screaming offspring have been left with their grandparents for a week of splendor, sure to receive all of their needs, wants and desires. I'm snoozin' — just barely"¦you know that kind of awkward sleep that you get when the lady next to you smells funny because she did not bathe the night before and, in her slumber, she insists on trying to snuggle, not to mention the fact that the pressurized cabin gives me a headache from hell itself for which there is no known cure — and all seem right with the world. Suddenly, my sleep is broken by a pair of demons, er"¦I mean kids, who have both begun to frantically scream "WE'RE GOING TO DIE, OH NO, WE'RE GOING TO CRASH AND DIE". I, with one leg still in sleepy land, look out the window to see water quickly approaching (if you have ever landed in San Francisco you have seen the same sight, I swear it feels like you are going to crash). The revelation of imminent death startles stinky lady and I to the point of scrambling to brace ourselves for the impact (no, not by hugging). Once we realized that these two monsters (around age 4-6) were just being "mini jerks" we felt a little relieved and a little embarrassed (again, no, not because we were hugging). This single flight has prompted me to vow to never, ever, bring my kids on a plane until they are of ample age to be polite to the other passengers. I suggest the same for the rest of the world.

THE POST: Are smart kids more likely to be depressed?
We got lots of fascinating (and heartbreaking) responses to this post, but rather than reposting any one of them here, I urge you to check them out as a whole. Great stuff, guys, and thanks so much for sharing.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]