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Photos: Our Readers And Their Famous Friends

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I asked for your best photos taken with celebrities and you did not disappoint. Here's a taste of what you guys sent us. We normally don't paginate our articles, but the number of photos in this post made that a necessity. So just click the little numbers to continue reading.

Update: If you have a picture you'd like to share, send it to Perhaps there will be a sequel.

Our readers have posed with the president (that's him with Jeff Winston of Grand Rapids, Michigan).


The former president (shown here with Jo Ann Graham & family).


The former vice president (shaking hands with Karen Elder).


The former candidate (with Paulo).


The former candidate's former rival (posing with Brea and Nathan).


The former candidate's former rival's lift ticket.


Another former candidate (with Creighton Lovelace).


And we even had someone send in a picture taken with Robert Kennedy. (Thanks, Patti Poole!)

But the submissions weren't all from the world of politics.


Two different people sent in this photo of Bob Saget. This either means that Madelyn Otcasek and Alyssa Lane are friends who both read mental_floss, which is cool, or this pic is near the top of a Google Image search for "random photo with celebrity."


Laura Gryder ran into Jay Leno at an In-N-Out Burger in Las Vegas.


And here's Laura with Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame.


Mary Van Tyne with chef/author Anthony Bourdain.


Di Anderson with Bobby Flay.


Lauren Las, her volleyball teammates, and A.C. Slater.


And here's Lauren with former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

On the next page, a few mental_floss favorites...


Steven Silver (the young one) with Clyde W. Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto.


Tish Strandboge and John Cleese. ("He signed the cardboard part of a Hot Wheel package for me (all
I had, crazy I know). He had never heard of Hot Wheels, and we had a
sort of odd conversation about it.")


Valerie Ashanin Abshire sent in this pic of her husband with Alton Brown.



Swapna Gupta and Krista both sent in pics with Carl Kassell of Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me!


Sarah in CA, shown here with Josh Bernstein of Discovery Channel fame.


Adam Smith with astronomy's own Neil deGrasse Tyson, who happened to be on The Daily Show at the very moment I opened Adam's email. ("This year is the International Year of Astronomy. 2009 is the 400th anniversary of Galileo first turning his telescope to the night skies and discovering amazing things (the moons of Jupiter, the phases of Venus, the rings of Saturn, and sunspots) that would change the world, how we see our world, and even how we see ourselves in the universe. I challenge you all at Mental Floss, in honor of this momentous year, to publish a couple of articles about astronomy.")


Kelly O'Brien and former Talk Soup host Aisha Tyler.


Jared Lynch with Bob Barker and his beauties.

We're not done yet...


Joe Meyer and Jeff Probst.


RosAnne and Dennis Rodman compared their piercings at the Venetian in Las Vegas.


Laura Thompson and Dwight Schrute.


Brian Martinez and Jerry Springer.


Jeff Brown and Stevie Nicks.


Allen Harrison of Scottsdale and Billy F. Gibbons of ZZ Top.


Tracie Karn and Lynyrd Skynyrd. ("I told them I had my kids raised, was ready for a new adventure and
asked if I could join the band. They got a kick out of that.")


Anna Bloom and Paul Schaffer.


Nora Hanlon and Ben Folds.


Allan Dranberg and the disgraced former mayor of Detroit, Kwame Kilpatrick, hanging out at Dave & Busters.


Dave Marklinger and baseball's notorious hit king, Pete Rose.


Shelia Culbert, her daughter and original Beatle Pete Best. ("After meeting him, my daughter was telling everyone she knew that 'a Beatle called me cute.' Of course, being 9 at the time, her friends didn't know what the heck she was talking about and weren't impressed.")

One more page, and then we'll get to the winners.


Obama supporters Sean Quinn and Kal Penn.


Andrew Hu's kids with Jackie Chan.


Rebecca Lunny with Seth Rudetsky, from the Broadway channel on Sirius Satellite Radio.


Dawn Holmes' son, Sean, with Henry Kissinger.


Frank Page, his shirt and Trisha Yearwood ("this was taken in 2001 when i was trying to get a comic strip i was drawing "spare parts" off the ground. the comic strip didn't end up doing much for me other than leaving me with a few promotional t-shirts left over. after a trisha yearwood concert, i made my way backstage for a meet and greet. she was amazingly nice. i gave her one of my t-shirts. so, if she ever did wear it, at some point in my life, my head was on trisha yearwood's chest.")


Stuart Steene-Connolly and Kevin Smith.


Tyler Mann and Rob Schneider.


Skye C. Reiner and Kenny G.


Jessica Fickey and Vanilla Ice. ("I said, 'Vanilla, can we get a picture?' Vanilla responded, 'Sure,' took my camera, and took a picture of only me and my friends "“ he honestly thought I wanted him to just take a picture of our group. I then clarified that I wanted HIM in the picture as well, and we re-took it with everyone in it.")


Chris Mackeprang and Matthew Lesko.

Drumroll, please...

Before I announce the winner, let me bestow 1st Runner-Up status on Karen Garrett, who brought the volume with three super celebrity photos:


Jack Donaghy/the guy from Glengarry Glen Ross...


...Barry Zuckercorn/The Fonz...


...and Stan Lee! For her effort, Karen has earned the mental_floss t-shirt of her choosing.

But since I have to pick one big winner to receive a copy of FBI 100 Years: An Unofficial History, I choose Michael Geier, who sent in a picture of himself with Mr. Rogers.


I was walking down the street to work one day when I looked up and noticed a man wearing a bow tie. It's not something I normally see everyday, so it caught my attention. I looked at the man's face and realized, I know that man. He came closer and in a mix of surprise and complete expectation, I said "Hi, Mr. Rogers." I don't remember how he greeted me other than to say he was just as you'd expect: perfectly kind and welcoming. I remembered I had a camera in my bag and asked him if I could get a picture. I got someone to take the picture, Mr. Rogers put his arm around me and then told me that he hoped the picture turned out.

If you have a picture you'd like to share, send it to Perhaps there will be a sequel.

See Also...

Our Readers Are Nerds! (We Have Proof)
15 Reasons Mr. Rogers Was The Best Neighbor Ever
4 Terrifying Theories in Astronomy




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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]