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Quirky Job Fairs and Other Unconventional Places to Find Work

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Hunting for a job is rarely fun, but it can be especially miserable during an economic crisis. With the national unemployment rate jumping to 8.1 percent in February "“ the highest mark in a quarter century "“ prospective employees are turning to new ways and unlikely places to find work, or cope without a job. Employers, meanwhile, are taking unconventional measures to lure the growing number of job seekers. Here are eight such examples.

1. LaidOffCamp

Chris Hutchins founded LaidOffCamp, a free conference with presentations on a variety of topics geared toward people who are recently unemployed or struggling to find work as freelancers or entrepreneurs, after being laid off from his job as a global management consultant in January. More than 400 campers attended LaidOffCamp's first session in a San Francisco nightclub on March 3. The day-long gathering, which was open to anyone but attracted a large number of people from the Bay Area's tech industry, featured discussions on such topics as living on a budget, coping with emotional turbulence, finding your passion, and starting your own business. "Getting laid off is an opportunity to find what you're passionate about," Hutchins told a reporter from Wired. "And not only what you're passionate about, but how you can leverage that passion to sustain yourself." The second LaidOffCamp took place in Dallas on March 6 and subsequent gatherings have already been planned in more than 20 cities throughout the country.

2. Strip Clubs

foxy-lady.jpgWhile Rhode Island's unemployment rate broke and then hovered around the 10 percent barrier in January, revenue dipped 15 percent at the Foxy Lady strip club in Providence. What was club owner Thomas Tsoumas to do? Tsoumas cut drink prices in half and business began booming, so much so that roughly 30 new jobs opened up at the Foxy Lady and two of his other clubs in Massachusetts. (Insert stimulus joke here.) Nearly 200 people showed up to Tsoumas' highly publicized job fair last weekend in hopes of landing one of several positions, including dancer, manager, bouncer, waitress, and DJ. Interviews were conducted in the club's various rooms, including the Champagne VIP Lounge, the All-Nude Solid Gold Room and the Private Dance Cabana. The owner of Christie's Cabaret in Phoenix copied Tsoumas' idea and held a job fair of his own one day later.

3. YouTube

When Ben Gullett learned that his father, Mark, was in danger of being laid off as vice president of marketing for the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, he produced a video that he hoped would help his dad find a new job. When Mark was ultimately laid off earlier this month, Ben, 14, posted his creation on YouTube. Since then, the video has attracted more than 95,000 hits and the father-son duo has appeared on Good Morning America and The Today Show. Most importantly, it has provided Mark three promising job leads. This guy, presumably, hasn't had as much success landing a job with Barack Obama.

4. The Australian Tourism Board

best-job.jpgTourism Queensland recently sponsored a contest to find a six-month caretaker for luxurious Hamilton Island in the Great Barrier Reef. Applicants were required to submit a 1-minute video explaining why they deserved the job, which was dubbed "“ and this is tough to argue "“ "The Best Job in the World." Online voters helped whittle the pool of more than 34,000 applicants to 50 short-listed applicants. Tourism Queensland will select 10 people from the short list on April 2 to interview for the position along with one wild card applicant, who was selected via an online vote. The winner, who will keep a weekly blog and provide photo and video updates throughout his or her stay on the island, will be announced on May 6. Oh, and if you're wondering, this isn't an unpaid internship with benefits; the winner will receive a salary of $150,000 AUD (approximately $100,000 U.S.).

5. Virtual Job Fairs

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There's no need to worry about making a good first impression with a firm handshake at these increasingly popular events that help employers and prospective employees alike cut costs. Virtual job fairs also enable employers to target qualified candidates all over the world without ever leaving the office. Typically, interested candidates log on to a Web site and interact with a representative from a prospective employer via a personal chat room or instant messenger application. Some companies host job fairs and conduct interviews with personalized avatars in the Internet virtual world Second Life. Interviewing for a job while wearing pajamas sounds great, but you'll probably have to fight the urge to use emoticons and IM shorthand during the interview. Otherwise, you just might leave the employer on the other end of the conversation ROFL "“ and not in a good way. [Photo courtesy of Simone Brunozzi.]

6. Equine Job Fair

trotting.jpgLegendary thoroughbred Seabiscuit captured Americans' hearts during his unlikely rise to fame in the midst of the Great Depression. Might a similar equine hero emerge from the world of harness racing? Might you be along for the ride? The U.S. Trotting Association is sponsoring an equine job fair on April 29 at the Harness Racing Museum. Representatives from about 20 potential employers, including representatives from local breeders, are expected to attend the event. "The USTA recognizes this is a very labor-intensive industry; horses need skilled care every day of the year," USTA Executive Vice President Mike Tanner said in a press release. "We're pleased to join forces with the Museum to put together those who need help at their farms and stables with those who want to work in the horse industry."

7. Sports

Earlier this season, the NBA's New Jersey Nets offered 1,500 free tickets to unemployed fans who submitted resumes to the team. The Nets will also hold their fifth annual career fair on April 1 at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, N.J. Registration for the fair includes a discounted lower level ticket for a Nets game later that night. Team-sponsored sports job fairs in the major and minor leagues have become increasingly popular, but the sports industry is hardly recession proof. Just ask Mark Gullett.

8. Prison

prison.jpgIn 1983, the nonprofit agency Offender Aid and Restoration sponsored a job fair at Philadelphia's House of Correction. Shadeed A. Jaleel, the former prisoner who came up with the idea, addressed a room of 200 inmates and encouraged them to start thinking about the possibilities that awaited them upon their release. "This has never been done in any jail in America," Jaleel said. "Take notes, come prepared to ask questions. We must begin to think big." Jaleel told a reporter that he didn't expect every inmate to get a job through OAR's program, but that he thought those with initiative could thrive as free men and women. Some of the inmates, Jaleel said, already boasted marketable skills. "If you can go before a judge and say you're not guilty when you really are, then you can probably sell insurance," he said. Similar job fairs for prisoners who are nearing their release date are now common, but this isn't a recommendation to commit a crime to find a job.

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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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