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10 Ridiculous Reasons to Call 911

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There are only a few situations that justify a call to 911—to report a fire, a medical emergency, or a crime in progress. There are, however, a lot of bad excuses for dialing dispatch. Here are ten.

1. The Jets aren’t in Winnipeg. It might have been criminal to a certain demographic that the Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996. But 14 years later, a man in Lundar, Manitoba, was still distraught—so upset, in fact, that he made a series of 911 calls demanding officers do something to get the team back. After finally frustrating (and insulting) operators, the man was informed that officers were dispatched to arrest him. His response: "If you’re coming to get me, can you bring me some smokes?"

In the summer of 2011, the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg and took up the old Jets name; no word on whether the two events are related.

2. Your husband won’t eat his dinner. A woman in Kerrville, TX, called 911 because her husband “did not want to eat his supper.” That wasn’t the first time area police had been to her house, though—30 calls over six months included requests for assistance finding lost clothing and catching her dog. She’s been charged twice with abusing the 911 system.

3. The Genius Bar is closed. Say you’ve had a few drinks and your iPhone isn’t working properly. You can sleep it off and hit the Apple Store tomorrow morning, or do like Michael Alan Skopec and call 911 five times to complain about it. The officers didn’t fix his phone when they arrived, though—they charged Skopec with obstructing or resisting a peace officer after he “refused to comply with orders from deputies.”

4. That cop was “really cute.” Lorna Dudash wanted a date. Instead, she got arrested.

5. There’s a UFO… or not. A British man dialed 999 to report an “enormous light blazing” over his house. "I don't know what the hell it is," he kept saying, but explained that the object wasn’t making any engine noise and had stopped heading toward his house. Two minutes after an operator promised to look into the matter, he called back to tell her that he’d figured out the source of the hovering light: “You won’t believe this. It’s the moon.”

6. Time is going by really, really, really, really slow. And you think you’re dying. Edit: You think you’re dead.

7. You need a ride. James Finlayson of Bangor, Maine, called 911 repeatedly to ask for a ride. When officers showed up, he was “belligerent and nasty,” but they gave him a lift anyway, directly to Penobscot County Jail. This is a bigger problem than you might realize. The tagline of Florida's whentocall911.com is "It's an emergency vehicle. Not a taxi."

8. You’re locked in a car. Not, like, in the trunk, or pinned under the steering wheel or anything. Just inside.

9. You’re unhappy with your manicure. Cynthia Colston’s nails were too short, she said, or too long, which she also said, and after arguing with her nail tech, she dialed 911 to complain. Then, she called again to ask when the officer would arrive. When authorities showed up, she called again to complain that nothing was being done. Four calls and a confusing report later, Colston was jailed for abusing the emergency dispatch service. And at some point, her nail tech allegedly hit her in the mouth with a nail clipper.

10. You can’t have it your way. A woman at Burger King can’t get her Western Barbecue Burger made properly. Dispatch was not amused. It’s possible that this item doesn’t even exist on Burger King menus, which explains the frustration of the “uncooperative” manager.

This post originally appeared in 2011. Main Image: Erasmus Wolff / Shutterstock.com

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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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