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11 Visual Clichés You Never See in Real Life

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A Christmas tree on the lot with a wooden X-stand affixed to the bottom. Armored car guards loading sacks marked with giant dollar signs. There are some things that, it seems, are stereotypical images constantly used in movies, comic strips, and on TV, but just never happen in real life. For example, have you ever actually seen any of these?

1. A Boy Scout Helping a Little Old Lady Cross the Street

It's the ultimate cliché when describing the friendly and courteous Boy Scout, but have you ever really seen such a youngster in uniform aiding an elderly person at a crosswalk?


It's possible that this association came about as a result of the repeated re-telling of a true story that occurred in 1909. William Boyce, an American businessman, got lost in the foggy London streets during a visit to England, and a Scout approached him and guided him to his destination. When Boyce offered the youth a tip, the Scout declined, stating that he could not accept money for a good deed.

2. A Reporter with a "Press" Card in his Hatband

True, very few reporters wear fedoras these days, but even in the dress-up days of the 1930s and '40s, did real-life newspaper folks ever display a tiny PRESS placard on their hats?


Despite the old movies that show police giving Melvyn Douglas or Clark Gable access to a crime scene by virtue of the card in their hatband, real-life reporters of that era did not flaunt their status. If, for example, their paper had recently been critical of local government then law enforcement officials would not be so eager to give them special treatment.

3. A Person Drinking Liquor from a Jug Marked "XXX"

This cliché most likely developed from an artist's immediate need to emphasize that that's not imported mineral water the "hillbilly" in the scene is swigging. Let's face it, what bootlegger with half a brain is going to mark his jugs with such an open invitation to revenuers?

4. An Angry Wife Chasing Her Husband with a Rolling Pin

Domestic violence is no joke, obviously, but have you ever seen an episode of COPS in which the battered and bleeding husband states, "My wife... she hit me with a rolling pin...!"?

5. Two Men Assuming the "Put Up Your Dukes" Stance Prior to a Fight

We're not talking professional boxing, we mean two guys who start out trading verbal barbs with one another and then let their tempers escalate. As a rule, when men get enraged to the point of fisticuffs, do they actually take the time to crouch down, pose, and circle around or do they just start punching?

6. A Newspaper Boy Yelling "Extra! Extra! Read All About It!"

It was the de facto transitioning device used in hundreds of old movies, but have you really seen a kid in knee breeches hawking papers by yelling "Extra!"?


TV would have us believe that these enterprising newsies spread information as quickly as the Internet does today, seeing as the cry of "Read all about it!" was always heard mere seconds after a major event (like the bombing of Pearl Harbor) occurred.

7. A Classmate Being Punished by Wearing a Dunce Cap

Even back in my elementary school days – when errant students could still get "the paddle" without fear of the teacher being sued – I never saw any miscreant forced to wear a pointy hat.

8. A Police Officer Shouting "Calling All Cars" into His Radio

Many movies and TV shows up until the 1950s have emphasized the urgency of a crime situation by a cop calling "calling all cars, calling all cars..." into his car radio. Did an actual cop on the beat have the ability to make such a call?


Probably not. The very first police car two-way radios were installed in Bayonne, New Jersey, in 1933, and relied on a central dispatcher to make district-wide "broadcasts." The 10-code (as in, "10-4" or "We've got a 10-33") originated in 1937, not only to reduce the use of speech on radio and save time, but also as a way to describe a particular situation without alarming those bystanders within earshot.

9. An Organ Grinder with a Monkey

Any time a movie or TV show wants to portray an old-timey ethnic neighborhood, nothing sets the tone better than an organ grinder (preferably a stereotypically Italian man) with a trained monkey collecting coins from bystanders.


Even though celluloid organ grinders are usually shown surrounded by a happy and appreciative audience, in real life hurdy-gurdy men earned money by being annoying, not entertaining. Their music box played the same snog song over and over and the only way to make them move along was by giving them a coin.

10. A Burglar Wearing a Lone Ranger Mask

This type of concealment is technically called a "domino" mask, from the Latin dominus (meaning "lord or "master," but not "Kemo Sabe").

11. A Goat Eating a Tin Can

Forget pigs, when a cartoon or comic strip wants to depict the ultimate omnivore, the goat is their go-to animal. And as a demonstration of their gluttony, they are usually shown munching on an old tin can.


Once upon a time a real-life goat might have occasionally been observed licking a discarded can, but that was because it liked the taste of the paste that was used to affix labels to cans back in the very old days. Goats are actually quite finicky about what they'll consume, though they do "mouth" objects to get a feel for them and to determine whether they are edible.
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What visual clichés would you add to the list?

Note: We're taking a dinner break but will be back starting at 9:11pm with three more 11 lists.

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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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