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The Quick 10: 10 Weird Places to Tie the Knot

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Getting married in a church is nice and all, but it's awfully expected (I'm not knocking it - I got married in a church). These days, people like to get married in places that have special meaning to them - no matter how bizarre. Here are 10 quite non-traditional places to say "I Do."

1. in the middle of a marathon. Where else but Vegas, of course. During the Las Vegas Marathon, people can stop at mile five to get married in a quick, three-minute ceremony. The reverend is a runner too, so you won't even have to break your stride.
2. Garbage Dump. Maybe I'm a bit prissy, but if I had a $7,000 wedding dress, I definitely wouldn't be dragging it through a garbage dump. But that's what this bride did. She met her groom because he was the station manager at the place where she took her recycling, so they figured it was the perfect place to cement the relationship. I just can't get over what it must have smelled like.

3. The 99 Cent Store. What better way to celebrate 9/9/09 than by getting married at the 99 Cent Store in aisle nine? That's exactly what nine couples did last year at the 99 Cent Store Hollywood branch. The store's wares were used for everything from cutlery to the bridal gowns.

4. The (fake) Titanic. Call me crazy, but I'm not sure I like the symbolism of getting married on the world's most famous shipwreck. But some people do - and more than just a few. There's a whole wedding package offered at the Titanic Museum in Branson, Missouri (where else?). It includes vows on a replica of the ship's grand staircase and a ceremony presided over by a Captain Edward Smith lookalike. Iceberg not included.

5. The (real) Titanic. Even worse, in 2001, a couple won the opportunity to take a mini submarine down to check out the remains of the Titanic. While they were there, they figured, why not get married? Despite the controversy - many felt it was deeply disrespectful to the many people who died in the wreck - New Yorkers David Leibowitz and Kimberley Miller tied the knot in the sub resting on the ship's bow.

6. Walmart. This isn't that uncommon, actually - Walmart weddings have taken place in New Hampshire, Utah, and California. I met Paul when we both worked at Target in college and I can't even imagine considering getting married there. And I love Target.

7. At a funeral. This one is sweet, heartbreaking and a bit odd all at the same time. Amilcar Hill and Rahwa Ghirmatizion had a seven-year-old son who constantly asked his parents to get married. When young Asa was killed in a car accident while riding with his grandfather, the couple decided to honor his wish and get married at his funeral.

8. Burning Man. Enough people do this that Burning Man actually has some tips and tricks for interested couples. l

9. Alcatraz. Kuoni Travel once offered a package for couples to escape to Alcatraz to get married. It's no longer on their site, although their two other San Francisco wedding packages - City Hall and Golden Gate Park - both include tickets to the Rock. However, at least one wedding has taken place there - the light keeper's daughter.

10. Mount Everest. This one is going to require a little prep work, but it has been done. In 2005, a Nepalese couple became the first people to ever get married at the peak of the mountain. Other couples had attempted the feat, but in all cases both of them were not able to make the climb.

Did you get married in an unusual place or know anyone who did? I have friends who got married in Xcaret, Mexico, which is not all that unusual. It was the reception that was crazy - it was held in a cave. It was pretty much the most amazing event I have ever been to in my life.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]