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The Stupidest Things Our Readers Have Done

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We've all done some pretty stupid things in our lives. If you're looking for evidence, here are some of the confessions our readers made in an effort to win a copy of the latest Darwin Awards book.

Before announcing the winner, let's run through a few of the highlights. (Note: There was one entry I couldn't even bring myself to copy/paste. Every time I brush my teeth or cut my nails, it will haunt me.)

From Eric:
I had written the perfect college essay. Metaphors, real life examples, purpose, meaning, heart, it had all the necessary components to be successful. With an above average GPA and more than satisfactory SAT scores, my essay was the cherry on the ice cream. I submitted my application to my first-choice school.

Not too many weeks letter I received a rejection letter. I asked myself, "What could have possibly kept me out?" What I discovered was that in the final paragraph of the last component of my application, the personal essay, I had mentioned always wanting to go to Boston College since I was very young.

I was applying to Boston University.

From EMStoveken:
For YEARS I harbored the delusion that the TV show "Perfect Strangers" ended its run with the revelation that Balki and Larry were not actually related. That Balki had showed up at the home of the wrong Larry Appleton.

This was one of my many trivia tidbits that I shared freely at parties and late night diner sessions.

From Witty Nickname:
In eighth grade I was with my brother in the church parking lot. I don't remember why we were there alone, but we were. He had just gotten his driver's license, and we decided it would be a good idea for me to sit on the trunk of the car, and for him to drive around.

He started doing donuts, FAST! I fell off the back of the car and broke my arm. We drove back home quick, I told my parents we were playing tag, they never questioned why two teenagers were playing tag alone at church, and how it got so intense that I broke my arm.

From qt314159265:
Turns out, my van wasn't actually in park. It took off down the hill, narrowly missing several people. Unfortunately, it did NOT miss the vintage AirStream camper parked in its way. Did major structural damage to the camper. Basically, it destroyed a very valuable camper. Whoops. The owners of said AirStream were extremely pissed. My glib 18 year old recation was, $hit happens. Not a favorable response.

From Lauren:
Invading Russia in the Winter

From Charlotte:
Freshman year in college, rolling around on the floor with boy interest & nose ring = snagged nose ring & bleeding. I wish I could say that I had been drinking (alas I cannot). Did not want to get an infection so I decided to treat with alcohol. Picked up the alcohol bottle, laid on my bed and proceeded to pour rubbing alcohol up my nose. Burned out my nasal membranes and still have difficulty smelling with my left nostril.
I currently teach biology to pre-nursing students and somehow manage to share this story every semester.
I debated sharing this story or the one where I set myself on fire my junior year of college. But, I figure everyone's done that at least once. :-)

From Linda:
Not start reading Mental_floss until I was 12.

From Lisa:
Knowing that all that the mall cops could do was call the REAL police, me and my accomplice streaked down half the length of the mall, past several confused shoppers (thank GOD this was before the camera phone and YouTube) and right the hell to our cars.

From Kendyl's Husband:
I glued the garage door shut.

From Matthew C.:
After living in England for four years, I moved back to America in a very stupid way.

My plan was to fly from Heathrow, London to Charleston, WV where a friend of mine was waiting to drive me home. After an anxious hour of waiting, I got fed up and decided to rent a car and just drive myself home. I hadn't been there for many years and quickly got turned around and lost trying to find the main road to home. So, I stopped at a gas station for directions. The clerk had a hard time giving me directions because he'd never heard of my home town. So I actually asked, "Okay, how about you show me how to get to the main road leading East. I can take it from there." He pulled out a map and replied, "If you go East from here, you'll go into the ocean." It was a map of SOUTH CAROLINA. I was in Charleston, SC"¦not WV. When I bought the plane ticket in England, I failed to notice the state abbreviation.

From Stillsaw:
I watched "Witless Protection," one of Larry the Cable Guy's movies.

From Colin GG:
once in frustration after losing a foosball game I punched what I had always assumed to be our soft couch. What I actually punched quite squarely was the heavy iron bar frame, which did not cushion my hand but broke it instead. And this was just post-college so I didn't have insurance.

From Juan:
When I was about 12yrs old, I played little league baseball and loved to have some big league chew. I shoved the gum in to my mouth by the handful.

Well, one night we had a sleepover at a teammate's house and of course, we all had our big league chew. I had just taken another large pinch of gum when my friend's mom said we should get to bed soon. I figured that the gum still had too much flavor left in it to waste so I decided to save it for the morning. Not wanting to choke on the gum, I decided to hold it in my hand while I slept.

I learned just how much I toss and turn that night because I managed to roll around in the gum so much that it was everywhere. It was along my side and in my armpit so my arm was cemented to my side. I managed to get myself stuck to the carpet. My friends tried to pull me up, but I did not break loose.

The worst part of it is that like most people, I had to go to the bathroom very badly when I woke up. My friend's mom couldn't think of a way to unstick me from the carpet fast enough and I had an accident right there on the carpet. Needless to say, we did not have any more sleep overs. At least none that I knew of.

From Melanie:
It was my first week in college (Cornell in Ithaca, NY) and I decided to try out my first (and only) pair of rollerblades. I tried to stay slow. I weaved back and forth and I was almost constantly applying the break.
Right before my dorm, there is a large bridge that goes over a gorge, Ithaca is famous for people committing suicide by jumping into the gorges"¦

I head down the rest of the hill, gaining more speed that I should have, and hit a crack in the pavement and went flying forward, and landed on top of the bridge wall overhanging the gorge, one foot dangling over the precipice.

I crawled back on the pavement, took off my rollerblades and walked the rest of the way to the dorm terrified. I am a Cornell Graduate with an MBA from Hofstra, and I was less than a foot away from falling into a gorge freshman year. I probably would have made me a darwin award winner.

From Colin:
A friend of mine had a conversation about how we both like when women wear black pantyhose.

Later that day we went to the mall and at one point I said to him "Look, black hose" while motioning in the direction of a women in black pantyhose.

What I didn't realize was that in between us and the girl I was talking about were two African-American women who heard what I said - and heard ho's instead of hose.

I left quickly.

From Kait:
...Turns out my boyfriend's little brother flushed a toothbrush down the toilet right before i got there.

But because this was so brilliantly stupid and absolutely something I could see myself doing, the winner is Meredith:


"My sister left her phone at my house recently and I spent 20 minutes trying to call her to tell her to come pick it up already because it wouldn't stop ringing."


Congrats, Meredith! I will be in touch about your prize, and we'll wrap up the Anything for a Vote giveaway tonight.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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