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8 Wacky World Records

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If you're like me, when you think of world records you think of that weird guy in the Guinness Book ca. 1980 with the really really long fingernails that curled around and around. Those sort of odd records continue to intrigue me so I came up with a list of 8 that are equally, if not slightly more wacky.

1. Most Spoons Balanced on the Face

In 2004, twelve-year-old Jonathan Friedman made it into the Guinness Book of World records for balancing 13 stainless steel spoons on his face for two minutes. Tim Johnston, who balanced 15 spoons for 30 seconds, quickly shattered the record a couple months later. The current reigning champ is nine-year-old Joe Allison who managed to balance 16 spoons on his face in 2008. He continues to practice and hopes one day to break his own record, but says his face needs to grow a bit first so he has more room to rest the spoons.

2. Longest Speech

Lluis Colet holds the title for the world's longest speech, which lasted a staggering five days and four nights—124 hours in all. The epic speech was about Spanish painter Salvador Dali, Catalan culture and various other related topics. This is not the first world record title for Colet who scored the longest speech title originally in 2004 with a 48-hour speech. But the record was later broken by a man who delivered a 120-hour speech. Colet was determined to win his title back. Fittingly, he dedicated his win to all those who work to promote and preserve the Catalan language and culture.

3. Most Piercings In One Session

All world records demand stamina but some are downright, er piercing. Twenty-one year-old Matt Robinson recently walked into a piercing studio with 27 piercings and left with 1,143. He received 1,116 new piercings on his back and arms to break the world record. Kam Ma had originally set the record in 2002 with 600 in one session. Robinson had set a goal of receiving 400 more than Ma to shatter the record. However, when Ma got wind of Robinson's plan, he decided to break his own record with 1,115 piercings just days before Robinson's scheduled session. So Robinson upped his number to 1,200! However, after hours of torture, he decided to just break the record by one piercing and stopped at 1,116. And get a load of this: He had the piercings removed a few days later, all except number 1,116 which broke the world record.

4. Eating the Most Hot Peppers

Pain comes in many forms. For Anandita Dutta Tamuly, the pain of eating 51 hot peppers in 2 minutes has to be weighed with this fact: the peppers were ghost peppers known to be the hottest peppers on Earth—twice as hot as Red Savina Habaneros. In 2002, Anita Crafford set the record by eating 8 jalapeños in 1 minute. The ghost peppers that Tamuly consumed were 100 times hotter than the jalapeños in the original record. Tamuly says she developed a taste for ghost peppers as a child when the paste had been smeared on her tongue to cure a childhood illness. She would even pick and eat ghost pepper while other children in her village were busy picking berries. To prove how resilient she was to the peppers, she smeared 25 of them in her eyes before consuming them.

5. Side Wheel Driving Through Smallest Gap

Dave Ackland broke the world record for side wheel driving when he drove his Vauxhall Viva on 2 wheels through an opening that was only 67 cm wider than the car was high. The previous record had been set by Terry Grant at the Santa Pod Raceway, Wellingborough, UK on October 17 2006. Ackland is a professional stunt driver and had been practicing for a long time (first on a bicycle!) to earn himself the title. As a kid, her looked up to such daredevils as Evel Knievel and Eddie Kidd. Ackland hopes to go on tour with his own stunt show that he says will include new blindfolded stunts and audience participation. Yeah, you can count me out of the audience of that show!

6. Most Pumpkins Carved in One Hour

Schoolteacher Stephen Clarke has a special talent that has not only earned him two world records but a lot of notoriety. He held the record for fastest pumpkin carver for sculpting a Jack O'Lantern in just 54.72 seconds. However, he broke his own record in 2006 by carving a pumpkin in just 24.03 seconds. Clarke also was published in the Guinness Book of World Records for carving 42 pumpkins in one hour on CBS's The Early Show, in 2002. In 2008 as a part of Publisher Scholastic Media's promotion of Goosebumps Horrorland, the company's first interactive game system, he broke his own record, carving 50 pumpkins in 1 hour before 3,200 witnesses!

7. Oldest Bungee Jumper

Ninety-six year-old Mohr Keet became the oldest bungee jumper in the world when he jumped off of the world record highest bungee jump location, Bloukrans Bridge outside Mossel Bay, on April 7, 2010. The title had previously been help by James Talbot Guyer at 74 years 47 days old. Guyer still holds the record for oldest base jumper which he earned after parachuting off the 486ft high Perrine Bridge in 2002. These guys are proof that extreme sports are not limited to the young. Keet began bungee jumping at 88 and had actually set the record for oldest bungee jumper jumping off the highest bungee jump three times, but he didn't apply to get the feat certified as a world record until the April 7, 2010 jump.

8. Most World Records Record

In 2009, Ashrita Furman set a new world record for holding the most world records at one time: 100 simultaneously. Furman has spent the past 30 years of his life training for and breaking world records. He says his interest in breaking world records stems from childhood. As a kid, he would much rather be reading the Guinness Book of World Records than playing sports. In all, Furman has set 236 world records and currently holds 98. His records range from pogo stick jumping and peeling and eating a lemon to poetry recitation and underwater juggling. The most records anyone person has held simultaneously since Furman set his record is 20. Furman feels confident that no one is catching up to him anytime soon, but just to be safe he continues to practice for and set world records. Maybe we can convince him to set the world record for leaving the most comments on a mental_floss blog post, which shouldn't be too hard considering the present record is only about 10!

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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