CLOSE
Original image
iStock

7 Less-than-Romantic Valentine's Day Promotions

Original image
iStock

You can't buy love, but on Valentine's Day marketers want you to try. And they're offering bizarre, if not terrible, deals to entice you. But trust us. Recipients of these gifts might say, "You shouldn't have" .... and mean it.

1. A COCKROACH NAMESAKE

Julie Larsen Maher © WCS

Got a love that endures? One that can't be squashed? One that might skeeve out others? Then the Bronx Zoo suggests you name one of its 58,000 Madagascar hissing roaches after your beloved. It only costs $10!

2. Mix-and-match humiliation at IKEA

Single people hate IKEA, because 1) it's always full of fighting, but otherwise happy, couples, and 2) many of the "some assembly required" items have instructions that require at least two people to figure out. But this Valentine's Day, IKEA's making partnerless shoppers feel included ... by singling them out. If you tell the food court cashier you're single while buying some meatballs, you get a free drink and Princess cake. Because feelings can be eaten.

But wait, there's more! If you get another single person's phone number while shopping at IKEA, you'll get 50 percent off a KLIPPAN loveseat frame. After all, you don't need a full-sized couch in your bachelor(ette) pad.

3. Cubic zirconia stud earrings, 92 percent off

Groupon's offering a variety of Valentine's Day deals, from cupcakes to massages to helicopter tours. We love a bargain as much as the next person, but isn't giving a gift that's discounted 92 percent a little too cheap? These two-carat cubic zirconia earrings retail for $59.99, but now they're $5. Let's hope they're being paired with something else.

4. Tattoo removal

A diamond is forever, but a tattoo doesn't have to be. Vanish Laser Tattoo and Pigmentation Removal in Fort Worth, Texas is giving lovers of the regretfully inked a chance to win free tattoo removal for their partner. May the worst tattoo win!

5. A date at White Castle

Fast food places love getting extra cheesy on February 14. This year, White Castle continues its ironically celebrated Valentine's Day reservations. You and your sweetheart should book now if you want a sit-down slider dinner with white tablecloths, artificial flowers, romantic decor, free dessert, and a photographer to capture your special meal. Or if you're Harold and Kumar.

Another option: Be a tease and send a SliderGram e-card.

6. Liposuction, laser hair removal, lip injections, etc.

What do you get for the girl who has everything, except physical perfection? New hips, lips, or eyelashes for Valentine's Day! Samra Plastic Surgery in New Jersey isn't the only place offering cosmetic enhancement deals for Valentine's Day and marketing it as a way to "love yourself." If you look hard enough, you'll probably find a discounted facelift, too.

7. A tour of the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant

You don't have to be flush with cash to take your sweetheart on an exotic trip for Valentine's Day. If you live near Greenpoint, Brooklyn, you can visit the Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant for free. The scenic tour — available at 9:30, 11:00, and 1:00 — starts with a short overview of the wastewater treatment process and ends atop the plant's 120-foot digester eggs. Gotta go? Book your tickets now at events@dep.nyc.gov

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
iStock
arrow
technology
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image
iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES