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The Quick 10: 10 Statues of Liberty (other than the original)

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It was recently announced that as of July 4, 2009, tourists (and non-tourists, I suppose) will once again be able to perch in the Statue of Liberty's crown to gaze out across the land. It's been closed since 9/11, so this will mark the first time in nearly eight years that the public has been allowed such access. But just because you haven't been able to see the original statue up close and personal doesn't mean it has to elude you altogether "“ there are replicas of the Bartholdi piece peppered liberally across the world. Here are 10 you can check out if you won't be making it to New York anytime soon.

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1. Billund, Denmark, the home of the original Legoland theme park, boasts a Lego replica of the old gal. She's still pretty large, as you can tell by the people in the picture. (Click for a close-up; the Statue is in the bottom row.)
2. Las Vegas, of course. Because you can find just about anything in Vegas. It's reportedly 1:3 scale and presides over fake skyscrapers and a roller coaster themed to look like taxi cabs. If you're on the Strip, you really can't miss her.
3. Paragould, Arkansas, claims it is home to the oldest Statue Of Liberty in America other than the original. Measuring in at a mere seven feet tall, it's shorter than the real statue's index finger (eight feet tall). But it means a lot to the residents of Paragould, who refer to it as the Paragould War Memorial honoring WWI vets.

4. There are three replicas of Lady Liberty in Paris, but the one that is probably best known is the one that holds court in the middle of the Seine. She's about 22 meters tall (a little more than 72 feet) and has been there almost as long as her taller counterpart on Liberty Island "“ the statue was inaugurated in 1889, three years after the New York Liberty.

5. Visnes in Rogaland, Norway, may seem like a pretty random place for a Statue of Liberty replica, but truth be told, there would be no Statue of Liberty without Visnes: it was the place where the copper used to construct her was mined. The mine has been closed since 1972, but the statue is there as a reminder of the town's contribution to a great work of art and international symbol.

lake6. If you're visiting Webster, Massachusetts, head down to Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg and check out the statue there. She's just a little thing, but she's pretty, and the lake she watches over has a fun name to say. OK, I can't actually pronounce it, but it looks like fun.

7. There's a 115-foot replica of Miss Liberty at the Heide-Park in Soltau, Lower Saxony, Germany. It's one of the biggest theme parks in Germany, so it makes sense that it has one of the biggest Statue of Liberty replicas. It's half the size of the real thing and took a year and a half for artist Gerla Spee to construct. The Heide-Park website says "everything in America is just that little bit bigger than anywhere else. And higher and wider and faster," so to celebrate that spirit and the similar spirit of their theme park, they constructed one of the most well-known symbols of America.

8. "Strengthen the Arm of Liberty" was a campaign undertaken by the Boy Scouts of America in 1950. They purchased about 200 small replicas of the statue and then donated them to various cities across the U.S., covering 39 states. Where the cities erected the statues was left to their discretion, so you'll find them in a variety of displays across the country. Although a bunch of them have been destroyed or lost, at least 100 still stand and have been logged by the Boy Scouts of Cheyenne, Wyoming. You can find them here "“ it's pretty cool to look through and see how the statues were used differently. I was pleasantly surprised to notice that the statue that inspired this Q10 "“ the one at the Des Moines capitol "“ was the product of this campaign.

19799. Can you imagine being an unsuspecting bystander at the University of Wisconsin- Madison during the winter of 1979? I'm pretty sure seeing the Statue of Liberty sticking up from the iced-over Lake Mendota, Planet-of-the-Apes-style, would probably stop you dead in your tracks. It started as a joke: two students promised that if they were elected to student government, they would get the Statue of Liberty relocated to campus. And they held true to their word, but sadly, the helicopters bringing her in floundered just as they entered campus and dropped our dear Liberty into the lake. Whoops. The poor thing was set ablaze just a few days later, but she returned in a fireproof format the next year. She was relegated to a storage silo for the next 19 years or so, but just this winter the students dragged her out to the frozen lake again just for kicks. You can see the process here.

human10. OK, so you can't actually visit this one, but it's pretty cool nonetheless. In 1918, 18,000 soldiers gathered at Camp Dodge in Des Moines to recreate the statue using people as a promotion to sell war bonds. It was a terribly hot day "“ temperatures reached at least 105 degrees Fahrenheit "“ and the soldiers were wearing wool uniforms. Several men fainted. Sadly, the photo was never actually used to promote war bonds, but it's still a neat picture. The whole thing is about a quarter of a mile long and 12,000 people were needed for the flame of the torch alone.

Do you have a little Statue of Liberty in your town, or have you seen one in an odd spot? (The people who dress up to promote Liberty Tax don't count.) Share with us in the comments!

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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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