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7 Seinfeld Plots That Happened in Real Life

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Seinfeld was hardly a show about nothing. Sure, Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer spent much of their nine-year run chatting in Monk's Diner, but they still somehow managed to get themselves tangled in some truly peculiar situations. Often, these storylines seemed to border on the ridiculous. And yet, several similar storylines are all too real. Indeed, whether by accident or because they were directly inspired by the classic sitcom, some people have played out several Seinfeld moments in real life. 

1. The literary fugitive

Seinfeld plot: A New York Public Library investigations officer named Mr. Bookman comes after Jerry to track down a copy of the Tropic of Cancer that Jerry took out in 1971 and never returned. At the cost of a nickel a day for 20 years, Kramer surmises, such a long-term offense will cost Jerry $50,000. After conducting his own investigation, Jerry finds that it was the Tropic of Capricorn he returned so many years ago, not the missing Tropic of Cancer. He relents and writes a check (for much less than $50,000) to the library.

Real-life story: On Feb. 4, a branch of the New York Public Library received a long-lost copy ofThe Fire of Francis Xavier, 55 years after it was first checked out. While the real-life literary fugitive wasn't apprehended by the dedicated efforts of a humorless library cop, he or she clearly felt some shame, opting to send the book through the mail instead of dropping it off in person. 

2. The false positive

Seinfeld plot: Elaine has the opportunity to accompany her boss J. Peterman to Kenya, but a pretrip physical reveals traces of opium in her urine. Believing Elaine to be a drug addict, Peterman bans her from the trip and fires her. Elaine begs for another test and fails again. Down and out at Monk's Diner, Elaine orders her regular poppy seed muffin and airs her grievances to no one in particular. One customer speaks up and tells her it's the poppy seeds that are causing her trouble. Reinvigorated, Elaine tries for a third test but is thwarted again by those tasty little seeds and, despite hoodwinking Peterman with someone else's urine, still isn't allowed on the trip.

Real-life story: After Elizabeth Mort gave birth in 2010, her baby was taken away from her as doctors found trace amounts of opium in Mort's blood stream. Mort immediately lawyered up, saying that the tiny amount of the supposed drug was caused by her having eaten a poppy seed bagel before going into labor. The county hospital realized its mistake, and the baby was returned to the mother after spending five days in foster care. Mort moved forward with her lawsuit, which she won in November 2012.

3. The beach cologne

 
Seinfeld plot: Kramer is a man of many of ideas, most of which don't go anywhere. But one invention — a cologne that makes you smell like the beach — actually seems promising. Kramer pitches the idea to Calvin Klein, but gets shot down. In a later episode, however, Kramer finds that Calvin Klein stole the idea and produced the perfume. 

Real-life plot: Leave it to high-concept perfumer Christopher Brosius to follow Kramer's lead. Included in his eclectic array of literal scents — ranging from Basil to Doll Head — is The Beach 1966, which carries the prime notes of Coppertone 1967 blended with the North Atlantic, wet sand, seashell, driftwood, and "just a hint of boardwalk." When combined and worn, it will smell as though "you've been swimming all day in the ocean." 

4. The noisy nuisance

 
Seinfeld plot: Elaine is at her wits end with a barking dog, and mulls hiring someone to kill it. She even meets with the fixer — Newman, of course — but takes the offer back, realizing that she can't stomach hurting the dog. But still desperate for a good night's sleep, Elaine, along with Newman and Kramer, kidnaps the dog and tries unsuccessfully to set it free in the country.

Real-life story: A city in Australia once considered a plan that would shut canine nuisances up permanently. At first, owners who couldn't control their pets would be steeply fined. Then, if owners continued to thwart the system, agents would make an in-home visit. Should the agent find the owner not at home and the dog barking, said agent would have the license to take the dog away. Once in the shelter, the pets would be euthanized if not collected within a certain time. I suppose rounding the dogs up and setting them free in the country would be too much work with too little payoff.

5. A Festivus for the rest of us

 
Seinfeld plot: Festivus is a holiday invented by George Constanza's father, Frank. It's celebrated annually on Dec. 23, and instead of a decorated tree, an aluminum pole stands unadorned in the living room. Instead of gathering around for presents, family members lash out at each other and the world during the "Airing of Grievances." The final tradition is the "Feats of Strength," in which the head of the household selects one person at the celebration and challenges him or her to a wrestling match. Festivus does not officially come to a close until said patriarch is pinned. 

Real-life story: Festivus actually existed before this Seinfeld episode aired — but only in the home of one of the show's writers. After the 1997 airdate, Festivus spread its wings, and instances of the bizarre holiday popped up all over the country. The D.C. neighborhood of Adams Morgan, for example, has for at least three years running held Festivus festivities that include a homemade pole, the annual airing of grievances, and Festivus T-shirt giveaways. In 2005, then-Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle set up a Festivus pole in the executive residence. And Denver is home to the Festivus Film Festival.

6. The lost car

Seinfeld plot: One Saturday afternoon, the gang goes to a mall in New Jersey to get cheap air conditioners. They return to the garage at 5 p.m. to find they can't remember where the car was parked. The four desperately search the parking garage, each getting themselves in their own distinct pickle. They finally find the car nearly three hours later and the disgruntled group heads back to New York City. (See the episode here.)

Real-life story: While anyone with a car in close proximity to a mall has lived some version of this nightmare, one British man takes the cake for losing his car in a parking lot for the longest time. In 2008, 80-year-old Gerald Sanctuary parked his silver Honda in a garage in Britain while running some errands. When he was done, however, he couldn't find the car. Frustrated, the man, who reportedly suffers from dementia, eventually got a ride home. But when his grown children took up the search for him, they too came back empty handed, and assumed the car had been stolen. But in December 2010, an attendant at the garage noticed a silver Honda that was unusually dirty and alerted the police who successfully matched the car to Sanctuary, who had reported it missing years earlier. The two were finally reunited in January 2011. "It's just amazing that it was right under our noses the whole time," his son Nigel said. Ain't that the truth.

7. The scofflaw

Seinfeld plot: An eye-patch-wearing New York City cop spends the bulk of his career searching for a ticket-dodging "white whale." The scofflaw in question was first ticketed by the cop in 1979 for parking in a church zone. That fine was never paid, and over the next 16 years, the culprit piles up more parking tickets than anyone in the city. And just when the cop gets close, the driver gives him the slip again. Kramer figures out the scofflaw is Newman and gets him to finally turn himself in.

Real-life story: In 2008, Alexander Khamish earned Gotham's unenviable label of driver with the most unpaid parking tickets, according to the New York Department of Finance. Khamish, who lives on Long Island, had 415 unpaid tickets, which amounted to an $80,000 debt. When confronted, Khamish said it was all a misunderstanding and that someone registered the offending car under his name. The DMV, however, never received any paperwork about his supposed stolen identity.

See Also: 25 Future Stars Who Appeared on Seinfeld

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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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