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4 Strange Greenpeace Moments

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Greenpeace has been at the forefront of political and environmental activism since its inception in 1971. While opposing nuclear testing and supporting environmental causes, Greenpeace has routinely been in the media spotlight, and often seeks out media coverage to promote its cause. Here are a few funny (and a few sad) moments in Greenpeace history.

1. Mister Splashy Pants

In 2007, Greenpeace held an online contest to name a humpback whale in the Southern Ocean. Surfers were invited to create a list of potential names, then to vote for their favorite name from the list. While most of the 30 names on the list were typical "whale names" -- including Talei, Libertad, Aiko, Mira, and Kaimana -- one jumped out: Mister Splashy Pants. Sites including Boing Boing, reddit, Digg, and others rallied web users everywhere to vote for Mister Splashy Pants, and on December 10, 2007 Greenpeace announced that indeed, Mister Splashy Pants was victorious:

Mister Splashy Pants got a huge 119,367 votes (over 78 percent of the vote) with his nearest rival being Humphrey at 4,329 (less than 3 percent). The rest of the top ten were Aiko, Libertad, Mira, Kaimana, Aurora, Shanti, Amal and Manami.

Greenpeace has since encouraged the public to Save Mister Splashy Pants by taking action against whale hunting and supporting Greenpeace. There's plenty of official "Mr. Splashy Pants Gear" available for those who love the splashy whale icon, but don't want to get all political.

2. Operation Satanic Sinks the Rainbow Warrior

Rainbow Warrior hull damageOn July 10, 1985, a French foreign intelligence plot codenamed Satanic set off two bombs aboard the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior while it was docked in Auckland, New Zealand. The bombs were intended to cripple the Warrior and prevent it from leading a flotilla of yachts to protest French nuclear weapons development. But the bombs sank the ship, killing Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira as he attempted to retrieve his camera gear.

The sinking caused a major international scandal, with French officials initially denying involvement. Two of the French agents were charged and imprisoned, while others were released due to issues of international law. Information about French President François Mitterrand's approval of the mission surfaced in 2005, shortly after he left office (update: this was a mistake; officials including French Defence Minister Charles Hernu resigned and Admiral Pierre Lacoste was fired as a result of the bombing). You can read more about the sinking at the Times Online, or on Wikipedia.

(Photo of Rainbow Warrior hull damage by Gil Hanly, via an excellent article in Facsimile Magazine.)

3. British Aliens Consider Earth "A Crap Sandwich"

Greenpeace UK put together a short film starring comedians Eddie Izzard, Jim Broadbent, and Joe McFadden. In the film, a group of corporate aliens hold a meeting regarding a proposed takeover of planet Earth. The result is a funny, inspiring piece conveying the Greenpeace message with a light touch. Check it out:

4. Rainbow Warrior II Runs Aground on a Reef

In 2005, Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior II was on assignment examining Tubbataha Reef Marine Park reef in the Philippines for signs of bleaching due to global warming. During the exercise, the Rainbow Warrior II accidentally ran aground on the reef itself, damaging corals in the process. Greenpeace was fined almost $7,000 for damaging the reef it was seeking to protect. More from a BBC News article:

Rainbow Warrior IIPark officials said almost 100 sq m (1,076 sq ft) of reef had been damaged.

Greenpeace agreed to pay the fine, but blamed the accident on outdated maps provided by the Philippines government.

"The chart indicated we were a mile and a half" from the coral reef when the ship ran aground, regional Greenpeace official Red Constantino told AFP news agency.

"This accident could have been avoided if the chart was accurate," he said, adding, however, that Greenpeace felt "responsible" for the damage.

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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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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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