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Pictures From Our Readers: Their "Pants"

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Last week, we asked our ever-growing army of reader-photographers to send us pictures of their "pants," which was our in-jokey way of referring to some funny, absurd or incongruous thing in their neighborhood. (Why "pants"? This post explains.) So this past weekend, flossers from all over the country scoured their 'hoods, cameras in hand, and now the frequently-hilarious fruits of their labor are in! So without further ado ... these are your pants. Many of the submissions fell into a few categories, which is how I'll organize them here.

Pictures Relating to Psychics and Religion

Reader Ellen spotted this graffiti on the outside of a bar in Towson, Maryland. I'll be up all night trying to figure out what it means.

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Reader Kate thought there was something incongruous about this elaborate Nativity scene on a psychic's front lawn. (I think Ellen's picture makes it obvious, Kate: this psychic was a Catholic until she developed psychic abilities.)

Creepy Visual Jokes on the Side of the Road
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Beth Layton writes: "With just some simple white boards, someone turned two boring holes in a hill into the feeling you're being watched. This adds a little something to the desolate drive to my nearest gambling town, Wendover Nevada, two hours from my home."

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Reader Daniel snapped this photo from his car. "Apparently someone wanted to accommodate travelers along this stretch of rural road in upstate NY. Bless their hearts for thinking of others. This discarded toilet has been there for well over a year, and some kind soul added the sign, should anyone need to 'rest.'" (Great find, Daniel! Though it would be a little more fun if you'd caught someone taking advantage of this "rest area.")

Signs That Don't Make Sense
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Left: "I Fought the Claw," found by Juliet in Seattle. Right: "We Need A Hovercraft," bafflingly posted in front of Elizabeth McDowell's workplace in Charlotte, NC.

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Found by Njdu while visiting his family in Utah. (I called the number, it appears to be some kind of phone sex hotline? If so, this has got to be the world's weirdest ad for porn.)

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... and speaking of porn, this photo was snapped by a reader (who prefers to remain anonymous) who says this sign is "somewhere along Interstate 10," though the gas station it advertises is long-gone. Too bad -- looks like that place had everything!

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Chicken Soup for the Sole: Swapna Gupta found this sign in Hoover, Alabama, next door to a church. Seems like the shoe-repair guy is trying to steal some of the church's business!

Continue reading...

Cars That Make A Statement
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Reader Pete sent this in, and writes "One man's philosophy, carefully stenciled onto his truck. Near New Hope, PA."

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It's log! From Hamilton Carter in Boulder, CO.

The Topiary That Should Not Be
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... just in case they couldn't read it on your mailbox. Found in San Diego by Lebetho.

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The gigantic, buttocks-shaped topiary of Van Nuys, CA. (Thanks, Joe Maz!)

Really Bad Art
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This painting of Tom Selleck hangs in the Midwest Museum of Art in Elkhart, Indiana. Thanks to Jennifer for sending it in. (By the way, Jennifer, I'm dying to know: what does the museum call this masterpiece?)

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Keri Woodward says this scrap metal bird is known as St. Paul, MN's "Stop Chicken" (although it looks more like a seagull to me). Maybe the Stop Chicken is saying "Stop making horrible public art!"

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This happy-go-lucky cousin to Easter Island's menacing heads is the work of Wichita-based chainsaw sculptor Gino Salerno. (Thanks to Danielle Kelly for sending it in.)

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"This most decidedly ugly fish is the pride and joy of the Muskie Bar and Grill in my hometown of Ventura, IA. It is about the length of a full-size pickup truck, and the tackiness is completed by the "No Trespassing" sign nailed to its back fin. The giant muskie sits right on the busiest road in town, which runs along the lake shore. I consider this tree-turned-muskie my "pants" because every time I drive past it I say out loud, "there's that ugly fish!" (Thanks, Mindy!)

Graffiti

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Andre writes: "I'm a student at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga, and I came across this (what i assume to be commissioned...it was too intricate to not be) graffiti on a wall in a back alley we call 'sketchy alley.'" (Cool pic, Andre! But what were you doing hanging out in a sketchy alley?)

Continue reading...

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"This is spray painted by my home in Layton, UT, on a small retainer wall next to the road. Behind 'Live and Let Live,' it says 'Live in the now.' I think both are good advice for anyone. It makes me happy!" Thanks, Zerra! (By the way, it occurs to me we've got a lot of flossers in Utah! Must be an intellectual state.)

Unusual Houses
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Reader Lorena lives near this colorful house in Eugene, Oregon. Damn hippies!

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This house outside Philadelphia was voted Most Likely to Give Children Nightmares by the local neighborhood association. (We especially love the happy plastic deer in the foreground. Shudder ...) Thanks, Pete!

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This worn-out mailbox comes with instructions, so you'll be sure to get your mail no matter how stupid your mailperson is. Pic courtesy Adam in Echo Park, LA, CA. (We love you too, Adam!)

The Saddest Christmas Tree (Both of Them)
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Kellie writes: "Every year my neighbor trims her Christmas tree and then takes one of the branches she cut off and puts it in my yard - with one decoration. Therefore, I have my very own Charlie Brown Christmas tree every year. I would take it down as it's almost February, but when she plants it in my yard, she "waters" it ... freezing it to the bottom of the snow bank. I should also note that I live in Duluth, MN, where it's winter 9 months out of the year, so by the time I am able to take it down, it'll be time for her to put a new one up!"

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Kath Oltsher in Edmonton, Alberta "found this tree caught by security bars against the window in an underused building. There it was, off an alley, to the side of an empty lot, in an area that could be called the "inner city," where the poorest live and where many of the people that used to be in mental health facilities were "mainstreamed into society" ended up. Who hung the Christmas balls, tinsel and ribbon on it?" (Some poor, mentally ill Charlie Brown, we'd imagine.)

Unsettling Juxtapositions in the Workplace

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Adrienne writes: "I work as an R&D supervisor in a cosmetics manufacturing plant in southwest Oklahoma. The factory is your typical industrial warehouse-type operation. In an effort to boost employee morale, upper management decided to put out a box where we could place suggestions for fun and great ideas like "have holidays off with pay," or "how about a raise, that sounds fun." Occasionally there are a few good ideas, but the suggestions, in general, are sarcastic and a little depressing. I included pictures of the Fun Suggestion Box as well as the factory. It is sadly out of place."

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From reader Karen: "I work in the Chattanooga State Office Building (in TN), which is a very ugly government building. We have a fountain in the side lobby. Sometime last year, a lone rubber ducky appeared in that fountain. Then friends started to show up. Soon we had a whole flock of ducks. (Plus one blue whale.) Every so often, some will go missing, and a ransom note will get posted to the wall, usually demanding chocolate or coffee. We all like the ducks a lot."

And Finally ... Unclassifiable, from Liza!
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"Though perhaps not as random as the example in the assignment, these
bank time/temp signs are the figurative "pants" I pass on my daily
walk to work in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. (2 views, the closer one
has one of the signs partially blocked by a street sign.) What's so
pants-y about them? 2 things:

(1) Their sheer redundancy. There's nowhere that you can stand to
see the leftmost/furthest sign that you can't also see the middle one.
Moreover, the two perpendicular signs on the corner (the middle and
right ones) could easily be replaced by a single sign extending
diagonally from the corner of the building. And yes, they all display
the same logo and time/temp on both sides, for a total of six displays
on a single building.

(2) Though you can't tell from the photos, all of the signs always
read exactly 10 degrees F higher than the actual outside temperature,
as confirmed by the other two bank time/temp signs within a two-block
radius and the weather.com report. They've read high since installed
last summer. It's beyond me how a professional sign installing
company can post 6--six! displays and not calibrate the thermometer (I
suspect a central feed, as all always read the same time/temp). At
least the time is correct."

Thanks to everyone who participated (and apologies if your photos weren't included in this challenge -- we'll getcha next time!) Anyone interested in participating in our next photo challenge, leave a comment here and let me know!

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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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iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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