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8 Strange & Different Restaurants

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Opening a new restaurant is risky. 60% of new restaurants close or change ownership within three years. One way to make a restaurant stand out from the crowd is to have a theme, and the wackier the better. It may be as simple as putting costumes on the waiters and decorating the walls, or it may be an entirely new concept, but it probably won't make the food any better. However, strange themes will get valuable publicity.

1. Dinner in the Sky

Dinner in the Sky is a Brussels based restaurant that serves dinner for up to 22 people"¦ 150 feet in the air! The specially-designed table and chairs are lifted by a crane. Dinner anywhere in Belgium will set you back almost 8 thousand euros; other locations are also available. Remember, you must wear your seat belt, and don't drop your fork!

2. In the Toilet

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The food at Marton Theme Restaurant in Kaohsiung, Taiwan is in the toilet. Patrons sit on toilets while eating, there are more toilets on the walls, and the food is served in dishes shaped like both eastern and western toilets and urinals. And business couldn't be better. See more pictures here.

3. Food for What Ails You

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D.S. Music Restaurant in Taipei, Taiwan is a medical-themed restaurant with crutches on the wall, waitresses dressed a nurses, and drinks served from an IV drip bottle! The owner came up with the idea to express his gratitude for care he received at a local hospital.

4. Pasta You Can't Refuse

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A restaurant situated inside the top security prison Fortezza Medicea in Italy is so popular that officials have since opened more branches.

Serenaded by Bruno, a pianist doing life for murder, the clientele eat inside a deconsecrated chapel set behind the 60ft high walls, watch towers, searchlights and security cameras of the daunting 500-year-old Fortezza Medicea, at Volterra near Pisa.

Under the watchful eye of armed prison warders, a 20-strong team of chefs, kitchen hands and waiters prepares 120 covers for diners who have all undergone strict security checks. Tables are booked up weeks in advance.

I couldn't find a menu, but I made one up for them.

5. Safe Sex with Dinner

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Cabbages and Condoms is a chain of restaurants in Thailand. There are condoms on the walls and pictures of condoms printed on the carpets. Instead of after-dinner mints, patrons are offered a bowl of condoms at the counter. Profits from the restaurants go to support the Population and Community Development Association (PDA).

6. Under the Sea

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Ithaa is the name of the underwater restaurant at the Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa. The walls and roof are a transparent acrylic arch. Its capacity is 14 people, who go down a spiral staircase to a depth of five meters. See more pictures here. (image credit: Alexey Potov)

7. Revolutionary Culture

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Shao Shan Chong Xiang Cai Guan in Nanning, China used the Cultural Revolution of 1966-1976 as a theme. The wait staff dress like Red Guards. Although it's not an era people recall fondly, the restaurant is doing well. The food must be good.

8. In the Dark

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At Dans le Noir? in Paris and in London, dinner is served in complete darkness to produce a sensory experience completely different from most restaurants. The concept is threefold: 1. you taste your food without visual cues as to what you should expect, 2. you relate to your dinner companion(s) differently when you can't see them, and 3. the wait staff is blind.

A magic switch between sighted and blind people happens. For once, blind people actually become your eyes.
This reversal of roles implies a transfer of trust from the sighted person to the blind guide because without him we are just lost.

Tanya had dinner at Dans le Noir in Paris and wrote about the entire process.

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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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