CLOSE
Original image

From North Korean Waitresses to American Bridesmaids: The Wide World of Compulsory Plastic Surgery

Original image

Kim Jong-Il, the villainous dictator of North Korea, has reportedly decreed that all waitresses working at prestigious restaurants must undergo eyelid surgery to make them appear more “Western.” We’ve come to expect such senseless edicts from a man who dresses like Dr. Evil, has a penchant for platform shoes, and starves his people for kicks. But what about other strange international plastic surgery trends?


While we couldn’t find another country—or restaurant chain, for that matter—that officially requires its servers to go under the knife, we did hear about a beauty pageant in Hungary that required all contestants to prove they’d had plastic surgery before they were allowed to compete. The idea, pageant judges explained, was to show that plastic surgery can do wonders for women’s looks. "I think this competition is long overdue," said Marton Szipal, one of the judges. "Hungarians used to laugh about plastic surgery but it's time for Hungarian women to care more about their appearances.” According to the Associated Press, one finalist had surgically adjusted toes.

Matching Bridesmaids

Some wealthy brides in the Western world have gotten the message. Before the big day, modern brides-to-be are not only saying “I do” to plastic surgery, but requiring their bridesmaids to do so, too.

Yep, you heard that right: It’s no longer enough that bridesmaids submit to wearing pastel taffeta frocks and matching pumps. Now they’re being asked to undergo surgery so that their breasts—or chins, noses or teeth—match, too. Less demanding brides are merely requiring that their ladies in waiting get Botox injections or are sprayed with matching fake tans, according to the New York Times.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Bridalplasty, which premiered on E! last November, pits brides-to-be against one another to win extreme plastic surgery for their wedding day. The winning bride goes immediately into surgery, revealing her newfangled face to her groom for the first time at the altar.

If that idea horrifies you, don’t look to the Baby Boomers for consolation. A growing number of American late fifty- and sixty-somethings are flocking to plastic surgeons asking for facelifts, tummy tucks, nose jobs and eyelifts, saying looking younger is necessary in today’s cutthroat job market. It may not be officially required as it is in North Korea, but these job-hunting Boomers say a little eyelift is the best way to look shipshape for job interviews, get good tips and move up corporate ladders. And if all else fails, it’s a good way to qualify for a Hungarian beauty pageant.

Image credit: © JO YONG-HAK/Reuters/Corbis/Pyongyang, North Korea

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES