CLOSE
Original image

How To Be A Local Character: Five Basic Examples

Original image

Almost every community has one or two of them: persons who everyone knows, even if you have never spoken to them. Some local characters have gained nationwide recognition via internet. If your neighborhood doesn't have one, you can follow a character from somewhere else! Here are five basic examples of different types of local characters.

Living History

Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton seems to belong to an earlier century. Sutton is a renowned moonshiner in Maggie Valley, North Carolina. He got his nickname from the night he shot a popcorn machine that took his money. Sutton charges $5 for tourists to have their picture taken with him, then he tells stories of the moonshining business. He published a book of stories, Me and My Likker. Local authorities tolerate him for the tourism he draws, but the ATF arrested him in 1974, 1981, and 1985. It happened again in March of 2008, when Sutton was found in the possession of more than 850 gallons of moonshine.

Cultivated Bizarreness

440mongo.jpg

Prince Mongo has been a fixture in Memphis, Tennessee as long as I can remember, but his home planet is Zambodia. Mongo's legal name is Robert Hodges and he is quite wealthy from his behind-the-scenes ownership of bars and restaurants. He has run for political office a few times. Prince Mongo takes in homeless people at his mansion in an upscale Memphis neighborhood, where he displays bizarre artworks in the yard such as coffins and a collection of 50 toilets. He's also been known to dress in strange costumes and howl during the night. The neighbors are chronically concerned.

He's Everywhere!

440flipflop.jpg

Larry Perrier is the Flip-flop Man. Folks in towns all over west-central Florida see him running or walking thousands of miles every year, always in flip-flops. He covers 25 to 50 miles a day, rain or shine. Perrier quit drinking in 1989 and turned to running as a substitute. He wears flip-flops because they are close to going barefoot. Marathon runners have a hard time keeping up with the 63-year-old. Perrier's story inspired a short student documentary, There's Something About Larry, available online.

The Town Drunk

440henryearl.jpg

Mayberry had Otis; Lexington, Kentucky has Henry Earl. With over 1300 arrests, mostly for public intoxication, the homeless and jobless Earl has been adopted by internet forums beginning with Fark. There are quite a few websites dedicated to Earl's arrest record. The Smoking Gun has a collection of mugshots, and Earl has made numerous television appearances.

Mysterious Sightings

440heman2.jpg

Sometimes just being seen is enough to make someone a local character. The blog Find He-Man chronicles the sightings of a muscular but unnamed man spotted in Manhattan. There are plenty of pictures and reader contributions, but also flights of fancy which make it hard to discern what's real and what's fictional about the site. Still, there are those pictures... and an occasional video.
*
What kind of local character grabs attention in your hometown?

Update: due to overwhelming response, several more posts were published.

7 Fascinating Local Characters brought you profiles from New Orleans, Boston, Toronto, Austin, Ann Arbor, MI, Anderson, SC, and Wellington, NZ,

9 Wonderful Local Characters featured folks from Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, St. Louis, St. Cloud, MN, and Adelaide, Australia.

7 More Unforgettable Local Characters has colorful characters from Peoria, IL, San Marcos, TX, New Haven, CT, Wheeling, WV, Ocean City, MD, Omaha, NB and Montreal.

6 of Your Favorite Local Characters profiles people you've seen in Seattle, Austin, Madison, WI, Jacksonville, NC, and one you are too young to have ever met from San Francisco.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
arrow
Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
Original image
iStock

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
SECTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES