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The Quick 10: 10 Deadly Landmarks and Monuments

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I realize this is a pretty morbid subject, but when I was researching the Statue of Liberty for Monday's article I came across a list of people who have jumped off of Lady Liberty. Some did it for sport "“ paragliding and that sort of thing "“ but one guy committed suicide by jumping out of her crown. That made me wonder how often that sort of thing happens at monuments and landmarks, and the answer is: pretty often, but on occasion, the person jumping doesn't always succeed. Here are five suicides off of well known monuments or landmarks that failed and five that succeeded.

statue1. The Statue of Liberty suicide happened on May 13, 1929. A witness reported that Ralph Gleason made his way out one of the windows on the crown, then seemed to maybe change his mind and try to crawl back in. The witness said it looked like Gleason slipped at that point, then flew downward, bounced off the statue's breast and landed in the grass at the base, just feet from a very surprised man who was mowing the grass. (As reader Carl pointed out, this was the first of two suicide attempts at the Statue of Liberty. Elhajo Malick Dieye died on June 1, 1997.)
2. In 1932, Peg Entwistle made her mark on Hollywood, but not really in the way most actresses intend to: tired of the constant rejections and bad reviews, she committed suicide by jumping off of the fifty-foot "H" in the famed sign in Griffith Park. Although it made a statement, it probably wasn't the best choice for suicide "“ the coroner's report said she died from multiple fractures and breaks in the pelvis, which means it probably wasn't an immediate death. Entwistle's body wasn't discovered for two days, so who knows how long she survived in agony?

3. There have only been 20-some suicides at the Hoover Dam since its completion in 1936 (so the official literature says "“ some "insiders" say it happens about every other week), one of the most well-known being part of a murder-suicide in 2004. The man apparently shot his girlfriend at the Treasure Island casino on the Strip in Las Vegas, then drove to the Hoover Dam and engaged in a standoff with police. After several hours, he finally jumped and fell about 750 feet to his death.

4. Three suicides have happened from the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, all of them in the "˜70s. After two in 1974 alone, a "safety grid" was installed around the observation deck's platform. Even so, another jumper managed to get through the grid and find his way to the ground in 1978. Although there have been attempts since then, police have been successful in coaxing the distraught people down.

5. As you might suspect, suicides aren't totally unheard of at the Eiffel Tower, but they aren't that common, either: The Société de la Tour Eiffel says there have only been 349 successful suicides since the tower first opened in 1889. They aren't all jumpers "“ some hang themselves from the beam. Those jumping from the first level don't always die "“ in fact, a young woman survived when she jumped, was caught in a gust of wind and blown onto the roof of a car, which broke her fall. She later married the car's owner. Take this one with a grain of salt, because I can't find a name or a year or any identifying characteristics about it"¦ but it's a good story nonetheless.

6. The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is the most popular place in the world to commit suicide. Of the more than 1,500 people who have jumped, only 26 have survived. In 1979, a 17-year-old man jumped off of the bridge 250 feet up, then somehow came to his senses mid-air. Great timing, kid. It's a bit of free-fall, so he had time to decide that his best chance of survival was hitting the water feet-first and adjusted his position accordingly. He was right "“ he hit the water and was well enough to swim out, get in his car and drive himself to the hospital. He had some cracked vertebrae but was otherwise fine (and is presumably still around today).

7. More than 30 people have killed themselves by leaping from the Empire State Building over the years, but there was at least one who tried and was unsuccessful. In 1979, a woman named Elvita Adams leapt from the 86th floor, got caught in a gust of wind and was blown back on to the 85th floor. She suffered a broken hip.

8. The Clifton Suspension Bridge in England has seen its share of suicides since it opened in 1864. But thanks to her attire, one lady who jumped in 1885 was very lucky. After an argument with her boyfriend, Sarah Ann Henley jumped off of the Clifton intending, obviously, to end her life. But thanks to the Victorian fashion trends, she was wearing a couple of layers of petticoats and skirts and undergarments, and the wind caught them just right as she was falling and acted kind of like a parachute. Seriously! She suffered some injuries but none too serious and lived to be 84 years old.

colorado9. Just earlier this year, a despondent man drove off a cliff at Colorado National Monument. But he didn't quite make it to the bottom of the canyon "“ his van got stuck on an outcropping of rock that prevented it from falling. The man called 911 and was rescued.
10. Aokigahara, the "Sea of Trees" located at the base of Mount Fuji, has become a popular spot for suicides ever since the novel Kuroi Jukai, (SPOILER ALERT) which depicts a pair of lovers killing themselves in the forest at the end. A yearly search of the forest is conducted to retrieve bodies; in 2002 alone 78 were found.

On that uplifting note, I'm off for a long weekend! I'm headed to L.A. and will come back with lots of flossy stories for you "“ in fact, we're declaring next week L.A. Week here on the Quick 10. If you're interested, you can follow the trip via my Twitter. And don't worry "“ I won't be jumping off of the Capitol Records building. Have a good Memorial Day!

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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]