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The Quick 10: The 10 Most Annoying Things Your Co-Workers Do

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I'm not sure that I agree with this list from Forbes "“ some of them, yes. But there are definitely a few missing... one of my pet peeves is listening to loud phone conversations that aren't work-related. OK, loud phone conversations annoy me even if they are work-related, but at least you can make a case for those. The other day I actually heard someone making an appointment with their OB-GYN and describing her problem in detail. I'm not kidding. It's called a cell phone, people, go out in the hallway and use it. Anyway. Be sure to let us know if you've experienced any of the items on the Forbes list below, and if we've missed one of your biggest annoyances, share that as well.

1. Eating food that others bring in, but never reciprocating. Eh. I'd call this a minor irritant, but I guess it depends on how big your office is.

2. Shouting over cubicles to have a conversation.

3. Standing around someone's desk and talking so it's hard for them to get work done.

4. Not putting cell phones on vibrate or silent. I've got one of those in my office, too. If I hear "Sweet Home Alabama" one more time, I swear I'm going to pull a Jim Halpert and put her phone up in the ceiling tiles.

popcorn5. Eating smelly food. I have no sense of smell, but one of my coworkers always complains about someone in the office who apparently puts vinegar on her breakfast. And there's always the dreaded burnt popcorn.
6. Borrowing things from a co-worker's desk without asking or returning the item. Especially if it's your red Swingline stapler.
7. Playing solitaire on a PDA during a meeting. Everyone acts like they're busy answering e-mails on their BlackBerries, but you know they're just playing Minesweeper.
8. Turning your radio on loud enough for everyone to hear.
9. Leaving water on the counter in the bathroom so when the next person washes their hands and leans up against the sink, they get a line of water across their pants.
10. Leaving the office kitchen a mess. Because that just leads to nasty notes like the one pictured.

And if spewing off in our comments wasn't enough of an outlet for you, check out Annoying Coworker, a site that lets you send an anonymous e-mail to your co-worker to let them know what their annoying behavior is. Note: I don't recommend actually doing that, but it's fun to read some of the others.

Photo from the always fabulous Passive Aggressive Notes.

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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]