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34 Bizarre Things Being Dropped on New Year’s Eve

Don’t live anywhere near New York City but still desperate to see something—anything—drop during the countdown to 2017?

We can help. (Well, we can help some of you. Some of you might have to go on a road trip.) Check out these places that have put their own twists on the rather odd tradition of hoisting a giant object up in the air to celebrate the beginning of a new year.

1. A GIANT PEEP // BETHLEHEM, PENNSYLVANIA

Peeps’s parent company, Just Born, calls the eastern Pennsylvania town home, which is why Bethlehem drops a 4.5-foot tall, 85-pound, illuminated Peep to mark the new year. Though Peeps come in shapes to suit every holiday these days, the drop is done with a traditional chick that flashes different colors at midnight.

2. A WOODEN FLEA // EASTOVER, NORTH CAROLINA

Why the town would create a 3-foot-tall, 30-pound wooden flea is a real head scratcher—unless you know that the town was once known as Flea Hill.

3. A MOON PIE // MOBILE, ALABAMA

Why a Moon Pie? According to PR Newswire, the tasty snack cake is the “favored throw” at the Mardi Gras parade (never mind that whole bead thing), which originated in Mobile. Sadly, the 600-pound Moon Pie is electronic, not edible.

4. A REAL (DEAD) CARP // PRAIRIE DU CHIEN, WISCONSIN

Most carp don’t see 15 seconds of fame, let alone 15 minutes. But every year in Prairie du Chien, Lucky the Carp is the center of attention when he’s lowered onto a throne to celebrate the new year. It’s the culmination of a week of activities, including hanging carp ornaments on a pine tree, the Carp Plunge (Prairie du Chien's version of a Polar Bear Plunge) and busting open a carp piñata. As far as we know, the piñata contains candy, not carp.

5. AN OLIVE // BARTLESVILLE, OKLAHOMA

It descends from the top of Price Tower, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed building, and falls neatly into a martini glass.

6. A BEACH BALL // PANAMA CITY BEACH, FLORIDA

Paying homage to the tourist industry that keeps the town hopping, Panama City Beach drops an 800-pound beach ball at midnight. Those who prefer beach balls of the non-deadly variety can attend the children’s drop at 8:30 p.m., where more than 10,000 inflatable balls are released from overhead nets.

7. A SARDINE // EASTPORT, MAINE

The area has sardine fishing and canning roots, but Eastport also drops a Maple Leaf as a friendly gesture to their Canadian neighbors across the bay.

8. A WRENCH // MECHANICSBURG, PENNSYLVANIA

Get it? Mechanicsburg?

9. A DUCK DECOY // HAVRE DE GRACE, MARYLAND

As home to both a Pat Vincenti Duck Decoy store and the Duck Decoy Museum, it makes perfect sense that Havre de Grace would drop a glowing duck decoy on New Year's Eve.

10. A PEACH // ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Go figure. If you prefer your crowd of revelers to be large on New Year's Eve, Atlanta is the place to be: the Peach Drop is the largest New Year's Eve celebration in the southeast.

11. A PINECONE // FLAGSTAFF, ARIZONA

In case you’re missing the connection, here’s a bit of trivia for you: Flagstaff sits in one of the largest Ponderosa Pine forests in the world. And the town has come a long way from the garbage can with pinecones glued on it that was used during the drop's inaugural year in 1999—see for yourself:

12. AN APPLE // MANHATTAN, KANSAS

Paying homage to their “Little Apple” nickname, nearly 10,000 residents and visitors gather every year to watch the city drop a brightly-lit Red Delicious. 

13. A CHUNK OF CHEESE // PLYMOUTH, WISCONSIN

It's no doubt got some competition, but Plymouth proudly proclaims itself the Cheese Capital of the World, which is why it drops a large chunk of Sartori cheese to welcome the new year. 

14. A DRAG QUEEN IN A RED HIGH HEEL // KEY WEST, FLORIDA

Her name is Sushi (the drag queen, not the stiletto). But Sushi is just one of the many midnight drop options in Key West: They also drop a 6-foot conch shell at Sloppy Joe's and a pirate wench at the Schooner Wharf Bar.

15. 200 POUNDS OF BOLOGNA // LEBANON, PENNSYLVANIA

If you're a cured meat connoisseur, you need to know that Lebanon bologna is kind of a big deal. That's why the city of Lebanon deems it important enough to ring in the new year with [PDF].

16. COAL // SHAMOKIN, PENNSYLVANIA

The little town of about 7000 drops a glowing chunk of coal from the community flagpole every year to celebrate its heritage.

17. AN ONION // ST. GEORGE'S, BERMUDA

St. George's is another town that celebrates local industry at the end of the year. They drop a glowing onion as a nod to Bermuda’s large onion export.

18. MARSHALL THE MUSKRAT // PRINCESS ANNE, MARYLAND

As if dropping a giant rodent wasn’t unique enough, Princess Anne has decked the stuffed semiaquatic rodent out in a top hat and bow tie. No, Princess Anne isn’t the hometown of the Captain and Tennille; the humble muskrat has been a target for trappers in the area since humans first inhabited it.

19. A LIVE OPOSSUM // BRASSTOWN, NORTH CAROLINA

In the self-proclaimed "Opossum Capital of the World," one of the little guys is lowered carefully at midnight, protected by a plexiglass cage. Though the critter is fed and released post-drop, PETA has been fighting the state to stop the live drop for several years. Looks like everything is proceeding this year as planned, though.

20. A PICKLE // MT. OLIVE, NORTH CAROLINA

If you love briny cucumbers, you'll appreciate the 3-foot pickle that drops down the flagpole at midnight Greenwich Mean Time. That’s 7 p.m. eastern. 

21. AN ACORN // RALEIGH, NORTH CAROLINA

It would take a Godzilla-like squirrel to carry away this 10-foot-tall nut made of 1250 pounds of copper and steel. Regular-sized squirrels can have a go at it, though: The acorn lives in Moore Square the other 364 days of the year and was created by sculptor David Benson to celebrate the City of Oaks.

22. YELLOW BREECHES // LOWER ALLEN TOWNSHIP, PENNSYLVANIA

Lower Allen Township wins for the quirkiest drop. The 5-foot-tall Bunyan-sized britches honor the local Yellow Breeches Creek—and for the kiddos, a pair of "baby breeches" is dropped at 10 p.m. instead of midnight [PDF].

23. A POTATO // BOISE, IDAHO

This year will be Boise's fourth year dropping a giant spud.

24. THE DEUCE OF CLUBS // SHOW LOW, ARIZONA

The city of Show Low got into the New Year’s object-drop game just a few years ago. According to city legend, the city was named when two feuding men decided to draw cards to decide who had to leave town. “If you show low, you win,” was the game, and the winner turned over the deuce of clubs.

25. A KEY // FREDERICK, MARYLAND

In 2012, the city of Frederick began the tradition of dropping a 5-foot by 2.5-foot wooden key from a suspension bridge. Why a key? To honor one of its most famous sons, of course—The Star-Spangled Banner lyricist Francis Scott Key.

26. A BUNCH OF GRAPES // TEMECULA, CALIFORNIA

There's more than one way to toast the new year. Temecula, which is in the heart of California Wine Country, does it with a 5-foot-by-8-foot bunch of grapes made of 36 illuminated spheres and 48 sequined balls.

27. A MUSIC NOTE // NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE

The Music Note dropped at midnight in Nashville is a nod to the town's "Music City" nickname.

28. A PELICAN // PENSACOLA, FLORIDA

Pensacola pays homage to its city mascot by letting one with a 20-foot wingspan come home to roost at midnight. It's not a real pelican, mind you, but an aluminum one studded with more than 2000 lights. 

29. A HOG // FAYETTEVILLE, ARKANSAS

"Last Night Fayetteville" is considered one of the top 10 New Year's Eve celebrations in the U.S.—and part of that accolade is due to the Hog Drop. Made with 1085 individually controlled LED lights, this oinker took more than 100 hours to create. Wilbur, eat your heart out—this is definitely Some Pig.

What Goes Up...

What goes up, stays up ... at least when it comes to these objects that are raised instead of dropped.

30. AN ORANGE WEARING SUNGLASSES // MIAMI, FLORIDA

"Big Orange" is a 35-foot neon orange that climbs 400 feet up the side of the InterContinental Hotel in Miami. And if that's not enough for you, there's also Pitbull.

31. A WATERMELON BALL // VINCENNES, INDIANA

When it gets to the top, the ball opens to release 12 real watermelons, making a mess that would make Gallagher proud in the splash zone below.

32. A GIANT HERSHEY'S KISS // HERSHEY, PENNSYLVANIA

The Kiss weighs 300 pounds and is seven feet tall before the "paper" plume is added. The banner brings the massive candy's height to 12 feet. 

33. THE QUEEN CHARLOTTE CROWN // CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA

For those of us who aren’t well-schooled in city nicknames, Charlotte is sometimes known as the Queen City because Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz was Queen consort of Great Britain when the city was incorporated. The crown is raised 25 feet in uptown Charlotte.

34. A TO-GO CUP // SAVANNAH, GEORGIA

This year marks the fourth annual "Up the Cup" celebration in Savannah. The cup is sponsored by Wet Willie's, an establishment that serves frozen alcoholic drinks in—you guessed it—a to-go cup.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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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