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Our Ten Favorite Facebook Groups

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Until yesterday, 'I Read Mental Floss' was our favorite Facebook Group. Then Evan Schiller showed us these.

1. Group Name:

"I feel bad when I see kids on a leash"
Description: In the old days, leashes were the domain of domesticated animals and the occasional dominatrix. Not anymore. Today's parents simply strap a harness across their kid's chest, grab the reins, and hope to keep their offspring on course. A suburban Iditarod. This group takes issue with the burgeoning child/leash phenomenon. They feel bad for the kids. You know who needs the sympathy? The leash. The only thing keeping some hyperactive little snot off the third-rail is a measly piece of nylon. That's a great deal of pressure to put on an inanimate object. The group purports, "if I was put on a leash I would be scarred for life." That's a bit dramatic, and actually, scientifically flawed. Scarred for life is what happens when an unwieldy child runs into the middle of the road when he hears the ice cream truck coming. Truth be told, when one considers the next logical step in terms of child rearing "“ the taser "“ a leash seems like, well"¦ child's play.
Members: 4,142
Best Wall Post: "My mom used to attach this green slinky-like thing to both of our wrists when I was really little. I will never forgive her."

2. Group Name:

"I cheated at 'Book It!' to get free pizza"
book-it.jpgDescription: This group is for those who participated in Pizza Hut's "Book It!" reading program in elementary school and cheated the system to get free pizza. According to Pizza Hut's website, "Book It! motivates children to read by rewarding their reading accomplishments with praise, recognition and pizza"¦ Goals are based on reading ability. Number of books, number of pages, or number of minutes "“ they all work." While the program purports remarkable success, including a whopping 22 million participants, this Facebook group, and others like it, reveal a much more sinister reality. Reading for the sake of reading has been usurped by pretending to read to get free pizza. And they say Americans are fat and stupid. Go figure.
Members: 113
Best Wall Post: "I remember one time I needed to read one more book so on the sheet I made up some book and when it came to the author I looked around the room and saw some civil war books and came up with the name 'Abraham Wall Lee.' It was such BS now that I look back on it, but that pizza was worth it."

3. Group Name:

"The only reason I went to elementary school was to play Oregon Trail"

oregon_trail2.jpgDescription: In 1985, when Oregon Trail was released on floppy disk, the world changed forever. The days of learning about Manifest Destiny and real Oregon Trail were finally behind us. More important matters, like shooting buffalo and learning to ford virtual rivers, were quickly taking precedence. Rather than bother children with actual historical events, Oregon Trail brought some life's most valuable lessons to light. For instance, according to the group, "typhoid and cholera really aren't that big of a deal" and, "if you lose two family members, 3 oxen, and 400 bullets while fording the river, it is better than paying some Indian $5 to help." And we ask, "Is our children learning?" The answer is decidedly "yes."
Members: 9,864
Best Wall Post: "JIMMY'S GOT TYPHOID!"

4. Group Name:

'I love it when bus drivers wave to each other'

Description: The most interesting part of this group is found its description, which reads like a lazily constructed haiku with little regard for syllabilic constraints:

every time
the driver give each other a little wave
and its amazing

busdriver.jpgThe connection between bus drivers is magical. Like a pitcher's ability to communicate with his catcher through a furtive nod and the faintest twitch of a finger, bus drivers too have a secret, unspoken code. If you've ever witnessed a bus driver selflessly make room for his comrade, waiting patiently as another bus merges into traffic, it becomes clear that bus drivers have attained nirvana. They are completely at peace, utterly gracious, brazenly benevolent. If bus drivers ruled the world there would be no war.
Members: 1,057
Best Wall Post: "...waving at bus drivers when not a bus driver is forbidden in the UK. you would die....seriously."

5. Group Name:

"If this group reaches 15k people, Kevin and I will have a pinecone eat-off!"

pinecones.jpgDescription: Once upon a time Facebook was only open to a select group of well-mannered college students. It was a tame, sterile place. "Poking" was considered risqué. But times have changed. And it has become increasingly apparent that Facebook is devolving into barbarism. It's an open-source free-for-all, sullied by graffiti walls, super pokes, and groups like this one. The group, and the high-speed pinecone-eating contest it sponsors, is both a testament to this shift, and proof that society has officially lost its way. The rules of the eat-off state: "5 cones each, 30 minutes on the clock. First one to finish his lineup of cones is the victor (unless time runs out, then furthest along at time wins)." Sickening. Just sickening. Now if you'll excuse me, Fear Factor is on.
Members: 1,450
Best Wall Post: "I don't know who Kevin is, but anyone willing to eat pinecones deserves me to back them up!"

6. Group Name:

"Chairman Miaow & Herman Gerbils"
catgun.jpgDescription: There's something to be said for irreverent puns. I'm not sure what, but decidedly, there is. If you haven't yet found a connection between cuddly domesticated animals and sadistic, imperialist dictators, you just aren't looking hard enough. This group is all about forging that all-important link. According to the group's mantra, "you get extra points for the more amusing the animal and the more controversial the bastion of evil. And vice-versa." Well, thank goodness. At first I thought there was no point to the whole charade.
Members: 18
Best Wall Post: "A little tenuous, but a fish/roman emperor searching for his father: Finding Nero?"

7. Group Name:

"Every Slinky I owned got Jacked Up at Some Point"
slinky.jpgDescription: Unfortunately, astute observations only go so far. The group's premise is spot on, but they offer little by way of solutions. Make no mistake, the slinky is the tip of the iceberg. Maybe I'm paranoid, but in my humble opinion, a host of modern-day products are alive. If not, explain how my headphone wires spontaneously become a useless, bewildering muddle whenever I leave them unattended. The same thing happens to wires behind the TV, or a computer. They're like unruly jungle vines. How can it be that wires, untouched for months, do this?
Members: 197
Best Wall Post: "Slinky + Escalator = Endless fun"

8. Group Name:

"Air Bud gave me false expectations about my dog's basketball skills"
airBud.jpgDescription: Thanks to film and television, I've grown to despise my dog's ineptitude. He's mind-numbingly naïve. For instance, while my pooch is busy chasing his tail, as if it posed some real and present danger to his life, Lassie is off saving lives and making Timmy like the happiest kid on the face of the earth. But when Air Bud came along, my shame sunk to new lows. It took me the better part of my summer vacation in third grade to teach my dog to roll over. But Air Bud can dunk with his nose? That's bulls*#t. Disney has been doing this for years. In fact, when you take a step back, real life is pretty terrible compared to a Disney movie. Coupled with the whole "Be Like Mike" charade, which convinced thousands of gullible children that Gatorade was the key to athletic greatness, Air Bud more or less ruined my relationship with my dog and destroyed my aspirations of making it to the NBA.
Members: 134
Best Wall Post: "I used to try and try when I was little to get my dog to play some b-ball. It never worked. Thanks so much, you smug little golden retriever."

9. Group Name:

rudy.jpg"1,000,000 Strong For Rudy Giuliani"

Description: They've got a ways to go.
Members: 4
Best Wall Post: N/A. Apparently, Rudy's supporters are too busy with the recruitment effort to post comments on the wall. [Rudy has plenty of other Facebook groups. But this was obviously our favorite.]

10. Group Name:

"Bring Back Captain Planet to Stop Global Warming"
planet.jpgDescription: Captain Planet can pretty much do anything. He can fly, he has super strength and the ability to blow hurricane force winds, he's capable of telekinesis, and he can even change shape and transmute matter. The only thing he can't do is tolerate ungodly carbon emissions. And who can blame him? The earth is falling apart. The children of the world need a hero, not a monotone former Vice President. Today's children worship purple dinosaurs, and some sponge that lives in pineapple under the sea. What kind of perverted message does this send to young people? No one can live in a pineapple under the sea. And if they did, they'll soon be extinct because Captain Planet is off the air.
Members: 7,555
Best Wall Post: "I didn't realize 'Heart' was an element."

If you feel compelled to join one of these groups, let us know which one. If you'd like to come clean about cheating at Book It! to get free pizza, we'll support you. And stay tuned for a mental_floss Facebook application. For now, join our growing support group "I Read Mental Floss."

Evan Schiller is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com. He recently started a blog called Conventional Stupidity.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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