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4 Internet Memes Guaranteed to Baffle Your Grandparents

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When Ted Stevens, the elderly senator from Alaska, infamously referred to the internet as "a series of tubes" during hearings on a 2006 net neutrality bill which he himself had sponsored, he unwittingly entered into a kind of irony vortex. Stevens had simultaneously proved himself clueless about the web -- at one point saying "an internet was sent by my staff" in reference to an email -- and had also created an internet meme, his "tubes" comment earning him a place among such hallowed meme icons as the Numa Numa guy and "2 Girls 1 Cup" (not to mention President Bush's infamous neologism "the internets.") In honor of Stevens' irony-laced accomplishment, here are five other memes which have needlessly clogged his tubes over the years.

1. Bert is Evil

In the late 90s, a new conspiracy theory was born. Pictures began to pop up around the net of Bert, of Sesame Street fame, consorting with various nefarious figures from history, from Hitler to Jack Ruby, and more recently, Osama Bin Laden. The theory being that mild-mannered, eggheaded Bert (who looks pretty dang evil when you arch his unibrow up, we grant you), is actually a malevolent mastermind responsible for some of the twentieth century's greatest atrocities. After winning a Webby award in 1998, the "official" Bert is Evil site was taken down due to a crushing amount of traffic, but Evil Bert lives on, popping up in the most unlikely places -- just Google him.

2. All Your Base Are Belong to Us

A simple case of bad "Engrish" -- in this case a horrendously translated "cut sequence" from a 1989 Sega Genesis game called Zero Wing -- sparked an memetic internet phenomenon some eleven years later. Anyone who grew up playing Nintendo games is at least glancingly familiar with Engrish mistranslations (upon beating the classic game Ghosts 'n' Goblins, I was rewarded by a puzzling screen that read "Congraturation. This story is happy end. Thank you") -- the "All Your Base" phenomenon, to gamer nerds at least, is twenty times more hilarious. A Flash animation began circulation around 2000 that featured shots from the original Zero Wing game with some remixed music and some Photoshop magic -- the result was internet gold:

3. Rickrolling

One of the few meme neologisms which also happens to be a verb, "to Rickroll" someone is to sucker them into clicking on a particularly tempting link rickroll.preview.jpg(say, to pictures of Jason and Mangesh in the buff), which then turns out to be the music video for Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." Hit counts for the Astley video online indicate that between 13 and 18 million people have been Rickrolled thus far -- and in an amazing twist, the phenomenon has begun to spread (virally?) to the real world. Public events like basketball games, local newscasts, even Scientologists have been Rickrolled. On April Fool's Day this year, YouTube Rickrolled the world by making every one of their front page videos a link to "Never Gonna Give You Up" (which means the phenomenon will probably jump the shark pretty soon -- yikes, another meme).

4. LOL-things

LOLcats have been covered to death (on this site especially), but it's hard to talk about weird internet memes and not mention them. Also known as an anthropomorphic image-based macro, LOLs can and have featured cats, walruses, anteaters and other animals in funny or uncompromising poses, paired with superimposed text supposedly uttered by the animal (and thus, of poor grammatical quality). The phenomenon has become so pervasive, covered in Time and elsewhere, forwarded and linked to death, that there's even a project underway to translate the Bible into LOL. Its creators and contributors hope to have the New Testament finished by the end of 2008. Here's the LOL version of John 3:16:

So liek teh Ceiling Cat lieks teh ppl lots and he sez 'Oh hai I givez u me only kitteh and ifs u beleevs in him u wont evr diez no moar, k?'

"Ceiling cat" being God, of course. (Satan is referred to as "basement cat," people as "kittehs.")

Here's my favorite LOL, the LOLrus:

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]