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5 Great Things With Unexpected Downsides

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Every cloud has a silver lining. We hate to rain on your parade, but it seems the opposite is true, too. Here are five allegedly good things that aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

1. Being Forgiving

Apology note image via Shutterstock

Forgiveness is a virtue of the brave, so accepting an apology and moving on must be the best thing to do, right? Science says no — you should take the hard line every single time. A study of 135 newlywed couples found that those who had the most forgiving spouses were twice as likely to repeat their previous bad behavior, sometimes as quickly as the next day. And waffling between forgiveness and anger made the transgressive spouse up to six times more likely to repeat their bad behavior.

2. Being in Love

Happy couple image via Shutterstock

It turns out the same hormone that tells you you’re in love also makes you full of negative emotions. In 2009, scientists discovered that oxytocin, long associated with evoking positive feelings like love and altruism, also makes people much more likely to be envious or jealous. While this might seem obvious (the jealous lover is no new concept), it extends to all situations, even those beyond relationships. Smitten people are more likely to get irrationally angry at the guy who got the last blueberry muffin at Starbucks, or to be jealous of someone who earns more money.

Even worse than the fact that being loved up makes you a veritable green-eyed monster, scientists had hoped oxytocin could be used to treat autism, but the emotional side-effects mean it’s probably not a viable treatment.

3. Gettin’ Paid

High roller image via Shutterstock

Money in and of itself can be a great thing, but having lots of it can change you on a number of levels. According to psychologist Dacher Keltner, being rich means you are less likely to empathize with other people, because you literally can't imagine what their life is like. Probably worst of all: the rich have a harder time reading emotions in other people's faces, especially less well-off people, meaning they can't even see how sad you look while serving their fancy coffee.

4. Holding Down the 9-to-5

Workplace image via Shutterstock

It keeps you in electricity and Hot Pockets, so it’s all right, right? Turns out that just one person being a jerk in one workplace will set off a chain reaction of anger and bad moods that spreads like a virus. Even if you’re in a friendly environment doing work you enjoy, studies show that, whether you notice it or not, hearing a coworker’s complaints can make you ruder to your family when you get home. That attitude then transfers to them, and then it gets passed on to their friends and co-workers, and so on and so on and so on.

5. Self-Improvement

Office workout image via Shutterstock

While motivation to change in a positive way is a great thing, wanting to become a better person actually makes you more likely to lie... especially about whatever you’re trying to improve. For example, let’s say you really want to become a better runner. If someone asks you what your best 5k time is, you are more likely shave a few minutes from your actual best time. And you probably won’t feel bad about it, either, because in your mind what you are saying will be true at some point in the future. This “eventual truth” doesn’t feel icky because you’re pretty sure it won’t always be a lie.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]