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Laptop Steering Wheel Desk

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Isn't this remarkable? The Laptop Steering Wheel Desk is a little tabletop you can attach to your vehicle's steering wheel  that gives you a level space to do anything you might need a level space for.  And what would you do with a level space in your car? The 266 customer reviews for the Laptop Steering Wheel Desk at Amazon give us plenty of ideas.
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I use it as a "mini-bar" when the friends and I go out to the bars. I can quickly fix multiple shots of tequila for myself and the friends as we drive from one bar to the next.

I am a Pathologist in Riverside County California and the Laptop Steering Wheel Desk has changed my life. I used to spend long hours in the autopsy room and had too much time away from my family. With this new tool I am able to dissect the organs of a patient during my commute home.

As a part time pilot, I can't wait to hook one of these up to my Cessna. Long flights through congested airspace can be really dull, but I know that's about to change. Can't wait to play "Ace Combat 5" at 10,000 feet!

As a part time dealer, I use the Laptop Steering Wheel Desk to score coke and cook meth while on the way to visit my clients, cutting down on the expense of a double-wide trailer lab and the need to hire a runner.

Just about all of the reviews follow the same vein. Save time by only reading the ones rated four stars or more. Or you can just skip ahead to the customer images. Here's a typical submission.

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Which is all good for a laugh. Really, who could look at this product and think of anything else? I was going to share the glee with my new husband, who drove a big rig for years. He took one look at the Laptop Steering Wheel desk and said, "Oh, I know lots of guys who have those. They're real handy."

See, truck drivers pretty much live in their vehicles. When you're a thousand miles from home, spending the night in a rest area, anything that makes life easier is a treasure. First, pull out the laptop and notify your dispatcher of your progress. Then you email your wife. Jot down those things you saw that day and want to remember -you know, for that book you're going to write someday. Then you catch your log books up. Then have a snack and wind down enough for a few hours of sleep. Pretty soon, it's time to pull out your thermos and pour a mug on your level desk, check your email for any urgent messages, and then disconnect the desk and go.

What's funny is that you'd expect the Amazon page to have a big red banner saying, "Only for use while parked!" But all it has is a line buried in the description that says, "For safety reasons, never use this product while driving." While the product may be useful to people who work in their vehicles all day -real estate agents, inspectors, salesmen, delivery drivers, and of course long-distance truckers, it's also a source of self-righteous giggles for the rest of us.

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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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