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High Class (and high price) Toilets

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When you gotta go, you can't be too picky. A clean and functioning toilet will usually do just fine. However, thanks to money and imagination, some restrooms end up standing head and shoulders above the others.

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The Bathroom Diaries looks at public restrooms around the world. In 2006 they handed out Golden Plunger Awards. The top winner was Hundertwasser's Kawakawa Toilets at Bay of Islands, New Zealand. Artist Frederick Hundertwasser incorporated stained glass, mosaic tile, cobblestone floors, copper fixtures, sculptures, and even a living tree into his design.

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The Reader's Choice Golden Plunger Award went to the restrooms of the Shoji Tabuchi Theatre in Branson, Missouri.

The women's room has a fountain, wainscoting, stained glass appointments and an Empire tin ceiling. Live orchids lay nestled at every granite and onyx pedestal sink. The fixtures are carved from black Italian marble and gold. Voluminous chandeliers soar overhead. The air is fragrant with 80,000 fresh violets (used per month).

The men's room is just as luxurious, if not as frilly.

Continue reading for more award-winning (and just plain winning) restrooms and toilets.

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The America's Best Restroom Awards are decided by your votes every year. You can nominate your favorite public restroom. Last year's top winner was Jungle Jim's International Market in Fairfield Ohio.

Talk about bathroom humor -- the entrance doors are actual port-o-lets. Unsuspecting shoppers patiently wait their turn until they see three or four people exiting. Upon opening the door they discover a gigantic, modern restroom within.

Check out other award winners from years past.

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The public restroom at New York City's Bryant Park got a $200,000 makeover in 2006. The result was referred to as the grandest of the park system's 600 bathrooms.

The Baths of Caracalla it is not, but the new interior has grand 10-foot coffered ceilings, mosaic tiles, a crown molding of painted wood, illumination from brushed stainless-steel wall sconces, indirect cove lighting, a wainscoting of mosaic vines and flowers, mirrors framed in cherry wood and, yes, sinks and a baby-changing table capped with Bianco Verde marble from India.

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Even the fanciest fixtures and decor can lose your attention to a great view. Jason described the awesome view from the swanky mens room at the Felix restaurant and bar, on the 28th floor of the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong.

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For pure laughs, you can't beat the mural behind the urinals at the Sofitel Hotel in Queenstown, New Zealand.

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You'll never go wrong by making a nicer restroom for women, at least in my opinion. A stand alone ladies room in London called WC 1 opened in December of 2006 with much fanfare. The retreat covers 4,000 square feet and includes facilities for bathing and dressing, and services such as makeovers, hair care, and massage. There are also toiletries and emergency clothing for sale. The toilets are cleaned after each use. Admission is £5.

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You can have opulence in your own bathroom, if you have the cash. Manufacturers of bathroom fixtures cater to every budget. Consider the $5,000 toilet. It's called the Neorest 600, from Toto. It has a "washlet" which I had to look up. I believe it's a bidet with an air dryer. The Neorest has automatic sensors that lift and lower the lid and control the flush. Suggested price for the basic model: $5,980.00.

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Go medieval with the 5501 "Dagobert" Wooden Toilet Throne, "Inspired by Dagobert, the last ruler of the 8th Century French Merovingian dynasty." Manufacture's suggested price: $14,123.00. Well, it's made from ash wood, hand-painted, and plays music when you lift the lid. It comes with pull-chain flush (which rings a bell), candle holder, and ashtray.

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San Francisco artist Clark Sorenson creates flower urinals that are works of art. You can buy them, too. Who puts a urinal in a home bathroom? People who want a beautiful work of art to pee in.

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A couple of years ago, there were reports all over the internet about a solid gold toilet at a gold dealer shop in Hong Kong. However, all the source links are gone, so they might have gone out of business. That can happen when you put your money in the toilet.

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The most costly toilet on earth is... not on earth at all. For sheer expense, you can't beat the NASA toilet on the International Space Station, which cost $19 million to develop! Despite the price, the toilet is complicated, cramped, and not at all luxurious. That's life in microgravity.

Bonus link (in case you need some comic relief with your relief station): An over-the-top ad for a Korean electronic bidet.

Further reading:
Innovations in Toilet Paper
Toilet Humor
Evolution of a Toilet
Toilet Paper Dispensers

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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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