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Facts About Every Student From the 30th Story of Wayside School

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Louis Sachar's Sideways Stories From Wayside School series is still a favorite of elementary-age kids, decades after the first book hit the shelves. Each of the three books features 30 chapters -- one for each floor of the Wayside School building -- and each chapter (usually) features one student. Here are a few facts about each of the 30 students in Mrs. Jewls' class on the 30th story.

1. Allison was once stuck in Miss Zarves' class on the 19th floor for a week after she wondered whether Mrs. Jewls' class was really on the 29th floor, since the 19th story doesn't exist. (Sorry.) She knocked out Rondi's adorable front teeth.

2. Bebe Gunn's little brother Ray is trapped on the 19th story. (He's there because she made him up, and like a lot of things that don't exist, he's in Miss Zarves' class.) Bebe Gunn is the fastest drawer in class; she can knock out a picture of a flower in under 8 seconds.

3. Benjamin Nushmutt is called Mark Miller by everyone in class because he was too shy to correct Mrs. Jewls when she first introduced him. A student named Mark Miller is in Miss Zarves' class, but everyone calls him Benjamin Nushmutt. He has no idea why.

4. Calvin has a tattoo of a potato, and is best friends and drawing partners with Bebe. He has a cat named Mrs. Jewls. He was once sent to deliver a note to the 19th story, but Mrs. Jewls (the teacher) forgot to give him the note, and he didn't know how to find the 19th story because it doesn't exist. (Sorry.) So he went back to class, where Mrs. Jewls (the teacher) thanked him for being such a good helper.

5. Dameon runs up and down the stairs a lot, and is in love with Mrs. Jewls. Joy once stole his lunch and lied about it, then gave him hers when her mom dropped it off.

6. Dana owns a dog named Pugsy, who was instrumental in Myron's demotion from Class President. When she comes to class with a ridiculous number of mosquito bites, Mrs. Jewls turns Dana's mosquito bites into numbers so they won't itch anymore.

7. Deedee loves sports so much that she disguises herself as a dead rat (Mrs. Jewls' least favorite thing) so she'll get tossed out of the window at recess, giving her a jump on snagging one of the coveted green balls, which bounce the highest.

8. D.J. has a dog named O.K. D.J. is super-happy all the time. His best friend is Dameon, but he gets along with everyone because he's just so happy. (He says no explanation is required to be happy. Kid's onto something.)

9. Eric Bacon is the skinniest kid in class. Everyone calls him Fatso, because all Erics are fat. He may have been the left-handed Eric who called Miss Zarves the principal, Mr. Kidswatter, a mugworm griblick. He's a pretty great breakdancer, too, but he breaks things when he dances so breakdancing is banned at Wayside. His dog's name is Billy.

10. Eric Fry is the fattest kid in class, and the best athlete (even though he once dropped the ball during a game). Everyone calls him Butterfingers, because all Erics are terrible at sports. He has a goat named Billy.

11. Eric Ovens is the nicest kid in class. Everyone calls him Crabapple, because all Erics are grumpy. His cat's name is Billy.

12. Jason is in love with Allison. He has a big mouth (literally) and chews on pencils all the time. His dentist is a scam artist who extracts healthy teeth for extra money. Jason was once stuck to his chair, thanks to a wad of gum placed there by Joy. Joy kissed his nose and made him fall over, which freed him from his chair.

13. Jenny wears a helmet to class, for which she is always late. Jenny is famous for turning the evil Mrs. Gorf into an apple (by holding up a mirror as Mrs. Gorf tried to turn her into an apple) and for coming to school on a Saturday, where she encounters the men with attache cases.

14. Joe can't count but he always gets the right answer on math problems. One day he wakes up and is able to count perfectly, and then he announces that he has 55,006 hairs on his head. (All curly, as fans will remember.)

15. John sees the blackboard upside-down, which is a problem because Mrs. Jewls only writes right-side-up. Dana is afraid she has a crush on him. After trying to learn to stand on his head, John discovers that he can read right-side-up.... but now everything else is upside-down.

16. Joy is a lunch thief. She doesn't know why she does it, but she felt so guilty after stealing Dameon's lunch that, for a whole year, every item she took from him tastes like Miss Mush's cooking. (So, the worst ever.) She likes Todd's lunches especially, but has also been known to take Maurecia's ice cream. Joy is never punished herself, but manages to get other students in trouble in nearly every chapter.

17. Kathy is a terrible kid who doesn't like anyone but Sammy. The reasons she hates everyone else are really specific, but she also hates the person reading the Wayside books.

18. Leslie has long pigtails, which Paul likes to pull. Leslie's toes are useless to her, so she tries to sell them to Louis (the schoolyard teacher). He won't pay full price, but offers to pass them along to Miss Mush to make little hot dogs from. She declines, because she'd really like to get at least 50 cents for her toes. When Louis offers to buy her pigtails, Leslie is shocked. "Cut my hair! Are you crazy?"

19. Mac was once named Nancy, which was terrible for him because he was a boy. Nancy traded names with a girl named Mac, who later became his girlfriend. He also named his dog Mac.

20. Everyone loves Maurecia (except Kathy), and Maurecia loves ice cream and Todd (but only secretly). After trying every flavor of ice cream, her love for it disappears. But she still (secretly) loves Todd.

21. Myron is the only person ever brave enough to try Miss Mush's Mushroom Surprise. (The surprise was that he liked it.) He does not like dancing the tango in Mrs. Waloosh's class, though, which the other students think is crazy. After Myron was late for school because he rescued Dana's dog on the way, he is demoted from his role as Class President.

22. Paul pulls Leslie's pigtails every single day. First one, then the other. Despite this, Paul and Leslie are best friends.

23. Ron is the worst kickball player in school. No one will play with him, except the time Louis decided to give it a go. They were defeated two days in a row.

24. Rondi's best feature is her front teeth, according to everyone. Her best friend Allison punched them out. When Rondi's front teeth come back in, no one thinks she's cute anymore.

25. Sammy has a bad attitude and wears a bunch of raincoats to class. He's so rude and smells so terrible that only Kathy, the meanest girl in school, actually likes him. It is revealed that Sammy is actually a dead rat, Mrs. Jewls' least favorite thing, and she tosses him out.

26. Sharie has very, very long eyelashes and a non-stop life, so she wears an enormous coat to class, which she sleeps inside of during class. She fell out of the building once, only to have Louis save her at the last possible moment.

27. Stephen is a natural blond who took in a little too much pool time, turning his hair green from the chlorinated water. He always wears a bad outfit, and is the only student to dress up for Halloween (because it fell on a Sunday that year). When Pet Day comes around in the third book, Stephen doesn't have a pet. He names an orange Fido and brings that instead.

28. Terrence is really bad at playing ball, so he kicks it over the fence whenever he has a chance. Secretly, he really wants to play, but his reputation as a bully is better than being the new Ron of kickball, so he keeps it up even though he doesn't actually want to be mean.

29. Poor Todd gets in trouble every day, but it's never his fault. As a result, he goes home on the kindergarten bus at noon, and has no idea what happens in class from 12 to 2. Maurecia is in love with him, but talks badly about him when he isn't around, which is every afternoon.

30. A girl named Sue is featured in a spin-off book, Sideways Arithmetic From Wayside School, but never appears in the three novels. She can't understand Mrs. Jewls' method for doing math, and no one in class can understand her "normal" way of doing math. Mrs. Jewls finally suggests Sue try a different school.

My favorite student was Sammy. Do you have a favorite Wayside story? Or better yet, a potato tattoo?

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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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