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The Quick 10: 10 Famous Pieces of Graffiti

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Graffiti has come a long way over the years. Largely thanks to artists like Banksy and Blek le Rat, some graffiti is now recognized as the clever art form it really is. In fact, some Banksy pieces have even been taken from their original locations and installed in museums like the Tate Modern. Check out these 10 messages that have scribbled their way into pop culture.

1. You know "Surrender Dorothy" as the skywritten message in The Wizard of Oz, of course, but it has also become a famous piece of graffiti in the D.C. area. Someone with a sharp eye and a good sense of humor thought the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Kensington, Maryland, looked quite like something out of Oz. To make sure everyone else noticed the resemblance as well, an anonymous artist scrawled "Surrender Dorothy" on a railroad bridge approaching the building. It first appeared in 1973 and the original is long gone, but homages pop up every now and then.

2. "Kilroy was here" is arguably the most famous piece of graffiti ever. It's certainly made the rounds, that's for sure. There are several stories as to how the little doodle originated, so your guess is probably as good as anyone else's. Many claim the little guy was a WWII tag, but at least one documentary shows a "Kilroy was here" tag from Fort Knox dated 1937. He's often used to poke fun at dictators, whether the stories are true or not: Hitler allegedly was concerned that Kilroy was a super-spy of some sort; Stalin supposedly asked who this Kilroy person was after seeing his name in a VIP bathroom. Hmm. Kilroy may have been real - the New York Times once said they found him and his name was actually J.J Kilroy. The Lowell Sun claimed his named was Frances J. Kilroy, Jr. The Oxford English Dictionary simply calls him a mythical person.

3. "Foo was here" is the Australian answer to Kilroy was here. Or rather, Kilroy was the answer to Foo.

Most sources show that Foo predated Kilroy by at least 20 years. Foo's origins are also unknown, but one story is that Foo was a guy who had the fun job of inspecting welds of submarines during WWI. To show his bosses that he was, in fact, getting his work done, Foo left a little signature everywhere he went. Interestingly enough, this is the exact story the Times reported when they said they found James J. Kilroy.

4. In the last of the "Kilroy" genre we have Mr. Chad, the British version. Mr. Chad was usually accompanied by a clever saying that always started with "Wot, no"¦" For example, in response to the WWII rationing, Mr. Chad often inquired, "Wot, no sugar?" He was spied on the walls of Parliament after the 1945 election, gloating, "Wot, no Tories?" And in 1946, Chad was marked on trains going through Austria with a gleeful, "Wot, no Fuehrer?"

5. "Clapton is God" was famous graffiti all over London in the '60s. Even more famous is the picture taken of a Clapton graffito at just the right (or wrong) time...

6. Here's one for you LOTR fans. "Frodo Lives" was a popular phrase during the '60s and '70s and wouldn't have been out of place on a button at Woodstock or scrawled on a wall in San Francisco. It was revived a bit when the movies came out, but it was not the craze it was back in the day. But never fear - if you want to get in on it, you still can. There's a Facebook group for Frodo Lives!

7. You can probably guess the time period of the famous graffito "Dick Nixon Before He Dicks You." The clever slang saw a small resurgence (with a slight tweak) during the Bush/Cheney administration.

8. "Repent Sinner." You know, in case you needed to be reminded. "Repent sinner" has been gracing walls, buses and billboards everywhere in Western Canada, specifically Edmonton, for about 20 years now. The trend has apparently migrated to Vancouver as well. Not everyone takes the graffiti artist as seriously as she takes herself though (it's speculated that the artist is a woman) - variations including "Reheat Dinner," "Resume Sinning," and "Recent Sinner" have all cropped up in the form of graffiti, stickers and even T-Shirts.

9. "Eternity" is a simple and beloved graffito tag hailing from Australia. I know, a beloved piece of graffiti? But it's true. The poignant word was written in chalk all over the streets of Sydney from the '40s through the '60s. The man responsible for it, a former criminal, remained anonymous for many years. His identity was revealed just a few years before he died in 1967. But his death didn't mean the death of the "Eternity" campaign - others picked up the slogan, including the city of Sydney, which illuminated the word on the Sydney Harbour Bridge during the 2000 New Year's Eve celebrations. They did it again during the 2000 Olympics. And there's an aluminum piece of artwork at Town Hall Square in Sydney that commemorates the movement.

10. And then there's Banksy, the anonymous British graffiti artist. He is quite prolific, so it's hard to choose just one of his pieces. I'm rather fond of the Pulp Fiction guys, myself. There are plenty more to choose from if Travolta isn't quite up your alley.

Are there any famous graffiti pieces where you live?




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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]