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11 Things Las Vegas Has Banned for Some Reason

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Las Vegas lets its visitors get away with a lot. Gambling is legal. Walking down the street drinking a beer is legal. Prostitution is illegal but tolerated. It calls itself Sin City and promises that, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Despite this, there are still some things you can’t do in Vegas. Here are eleven odd things the city has banned over the years.

1. HULA-HOOPS

In the middle of downtown Vegas there is a large mall called the Fremont Street Experience. There you can shop for almost anything and give money to the dozens of quirky street performers that are ubiquitous to the site. What you can’t do is Hula-Hoop.

Since many of these independent vendors do not have permits, the city council of Las Vegas has continually tried to crack down on them. But it was the people performing with hula hoops that really irked them. The council claimed that they block pedestrian traffic, thus affecting businesses. As one councilman clarified, "These aren't little Hula-Hoops. They're big Hula-Hoops." (Thankfully, Richard Simmons can continue Hula-Hooping it up elsewhere in Vegas.)

2. MEGAPHONES

The ban on megaphones was also part of the attempt to ban unlicensed vendors at the Fremont Street Experience. It also included jugglers and Tasers, a ban that became necessary when a Gene Simmons impersonator was caught on video tasering a tourist for no apparent reason.

Instead the council wanted to make two small “free expression” areas. If that sounds like a weird compromise, it is — the bans on these street performers keep getting shot down in court. It has been a 17-year battle that the council can’t seem to win since the courts see such bans as restricting freedom of speech. Or as one unlicensed Elvis impersonator affected by the ban said, “They're a whole bunch of jerks.”

In the end, a watered down ban allowed normal sized hula hoops in certain areas, and some megaphone use. You’re still not allowed to Taser people though, no matter who you are dressed up as.

3. HIP-HOP CONCERTS

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In 2005, Sheriff Bill Young called on casinos to ban all hip-hop and gangsta rap artists from performing in Vegas. He cited a number of violent incidents related to such concerts. The Gaming Control Board weighed in, warning the casinos that they would now be held responsible for any “hip-hop-related” violence that occurred on their premises. While the casinos put up a fight publicly, they quietly started canceling concerts featuring rappers, and stopped scheduling future shows as well. Critics of the new policy rightly pointed out that alcohol is responsible for more violence than hip-hop concerts, but no one in Vegas was trying to ban that.

4. LAP DANCES

In 2006, the Nevada Supreme Court decided a case making lap dances in which the patron touched the dancer, or vice versa, illegal. While many strippers argued that they made the majority of their income from lap dancing, and that without any touching they would lose that income, proponents of the ban insisted lap dances were just as enjoyable with no contact. The decision meant that Las Vegas was actually more restrictive about strip club rules than most other states, or as one unnamed stripper put it, "This is considered Sin City, and if Oregon is more sinful than we are, that's weird."

5. PARIS HILTON

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Following her 2010 arrest for cocaine possession, the famous-for-being-famous heiress was banned from both of Las Vegas’s Wynn Hotels by the owner, Steve Wynn. The controversial billionaire, who also banned Lil Wayne from the same hotels, eventually recanted and allowed Paris to party at his hotel clubs again a few months ago.

6. FEEDING THE HOMELESS

That same year, the city council banned feeding homeless people in public parks. This was not limited to someone handing their sandwich to a hungry hobo; it also included mobile food kitchens set up by charities. But the ruling raised the question of just how to determine who was truly homeless and who just looked like they might be. Eventually a federal judge ruled the ban unconstitutional.

7. FEEDING THE PIGEONS

This year a proposed ordinance moved to ban feeding pigeons, which Clark County likes even less than homeless people. Calling them “flying rats” in the official proposal, proponents came forward with stories of pigeons destroying roofs and attacking tourists. While a first offense would just result in a warning, ignoring the ordinance could lead to up to six months in jail.

The seemingly innocuous fight over bird feeding became surprisingly political with one resident saying, “Liberal Democrats, I think they’re a menace, too, but no one’s saying we can’t feed y’all.”

8. VUVUZELAS

When the rest of the world was introduced to the extremely loud and annoying South African noisemaker during the 2010 World Cup, some Las Vegas vendors saw a new retail opportunity. Pretty soon vuvuzelas were showing up at American sports games in large enough numbers to be an issue. The UFC proceeded to ban them at its Vegas events, with the president stating, “This decision was pretty simple. Vuvuzelas make the most horrific sound I've ever heard. I'd rather let [someone] punch me in the face than hear 15,000 people blow on those things.”

9. HOUSE RENTALS

Las Vegas is a 24-hour-a-day party, unless you live off the strip. It turns out residents would prefer that visitors keep their partying out of the suburbs. That’s why the council voted to ban house rentals of less than 30 days. The limit meant month-to-month residential leases would still be an option, but renting a huge house out for a weekend to party with your friends would all but cease.

And officials are serious about this ban. While it was passed in 2010, the ban was only enforced for the first time last week. The homeowner was fined a whopping $29,000.

10. PETS

Just last week the Las Vegas city council approved a year-long ban on pets on the Strip. While people will be allowed to walk their dogs between 5am and noon, the ordinance is intended to keep panhandlers from making dogs stay in one spot for extended periods during hot summer days and to protect tourists from being bitten, as a California man was last year. As one blog noted, while pets may be gone, “party animals [are] still allowed.”

11. BATH SALTS

This year Las Vegas’s Pharmacy Board joined a growing list of cities and states banning the use of some bath salts. These salts, while officially for bathing, have narcotic-like side effects of euphoria when they are ingested, injected, snorted, or smoked. They also have the downside of often landing users in the emergency room with heart palpitations or in the midst of psychotic episodes. Perhaps fittingly, one of the names the salts are sold under is “Charley Sheene.”

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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