11 Controversial Vanity License Plates

Most vanity plates are pretty benign, a little seven-letter puzzle of numbers and letters that reveals driver's love of the Cubs or dachshunds or Quidditch. This list of revoked (and sometimes reinstated) plates is a little more controversial than that. Check out 11 letter combos that would definitely make your head turn if you spotted them on the highway.

1. GOES211

Anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with This is Spinal Tap knows that “Goes to 11” is referring to an amplifier. It would seem that a man named Johnny Dixon is unfamiliar with David St. Hubbins or Nigel Tufnel, because he wrote the Washington Department of Licensing to complain when he saw those plates. “I find it in poor taste that the great state of Washington would issue a plate that allows a driver to insinuate in public that his penis grows to 11 inches in length,” his complaint letter said. “The rest of the citizens of Washington should not be subjected to this vulgarity.” The owner of the license plate was ultimately allowed to keep it. “The complaint was, pardon my pun, a stretch,” said Department of Licensing spokesman Brad BenfIeld.


You’d think that most people are aware of the meaning of “MILF” ever since American Pie invaded our vernacular and forever tainted our image of wholesome baked goods. The good people of the Washington State Department of Licensing, however, were clueless when they received an application for a personalized plate that read “GOTMILF,” along with the explanation that “MILF” meant “Manual Inline Lift Fluctuator.” After other motorists called to complain, the man explained that “GOTMILF” really stood for “Got Married Into Lisa’s Family” and was allegedly a wedding present for his wife. The department of licensing didn’t buy the excuse the second time around. The man’s second choice, by the way, was “SUPL8EZ.”


North Dakotan Brian Magee, co-host of a radio show called “Amplified Atheist,” applied for a license plate declaring his religious beliefs (or lack thereof) in 2010. It was denied. After an appeal process that included a trip to the North Dakota Attorney General, Magee won the right to put the plates on his Grand Cherokee. Steven Miles, an atheist in Florida, had a similar experience. His 1994 Camry had proudly declared “ATHEIST” for 16 years when the state revoked the plates after receiving a letter of complaint signed by 12 individuals. The DMV eventually reversed the judgment and allowed Miles to keep the plates.


In 2007, South Dakotan Heather Morijah and her boyfriend got his-and-hers license plates. His said “IMPCH W” and hers read “MPEACHW.” A few months later, Morijah got a letter from the DMV stating that she had to surrender the plate within 10 days due to complaints. On the advice of her lawyer, Morijah went to the media. The DMV refused to back down, publicly stating that they might be forced to make law enforcement collect the plates if she wouldn’t give them up voluntarily. That’s when the national media got involved, including CNN. The ACLU of the Dakotas sent the DMV a letter about censoring political speech, and miraculously, the decision was reversed a couple of days later.

5. IB6UB9

Robert Anaya of New Mexico had been tooling around the state with “IB6UB9” license plates for close to three years before the Taxation and Revenue Department understood the sexual reference. Anaya claims it’s an inside joke from a night out at a casino with friends and is currently fighting to get his plates back.


The Colorado DMV nixed a vegan’s seven-letter love note to everyone’s favorite bean curd in 2009. “We don’t allow FU because some people could read that as street language for sex,” a Department of Revenue spokesman said. The woman who hoped to own the license plate was slightly bewildered. “My whole family is vegan so tofu is like a staple for us,” she told the Denver Post. But she's not alone: Tennessee, Florida and Virgina have all rejected "ILVTOFU" plates.


F Osama? Not if the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has anything to say about it (and it turns out they do). Even though Rick Sanders had been driving the anti-Osama Bin Laden plates for more than seven years, the DMV sent him a letter in 2012 explaining that they made a mistake in issuing them. Sanders played slightly coy about what the “F” meant: “It can be anything you want—fight Osama, forget Osama, or... anything you want.” Nevertheless, he stopped using the plates and received replacements from the DMV—a set he happened to find offensive. “6668UP,” he says, means “The devil ate you up.”


In 2009, a group of Neo-Nazis were having a meeting in Oregon. Among the group of cars gathered at the meeting was one with the plate “NO ZOG.” Protesters noticed and issued complaints, which resulted in the plate being pulled. ZOG means “Zionist Occupied Government" and is a form of anti-Semitism. Jimmy Marr, the man who owned the plates, declined to explain why he chose such a sentiment and hung up on the reporter who called to ask.


“You may have grown fond of your personalized plates,” the state of Virginia wrote in a letter to David Phillips in 2007, but said they were being pulled for being “socially, racially or ethnically offensive or disparaging.” For those who don’t know their British slang, “poofter” refers to a gay man. Phillips had the plates on his car for more than a decade before the state realized what it meant. It’s less offensive, he says, than “NANCBOY,” which is what his car proclaimed—without issue or complaint—before he heard of the term “poofter” and changed his plates to that instead. “It’s just an amusing word I self-identify with,” Phillips said.


Brooke Bennett-Manas of Las Vegas had been amusing fellow drivers for more than four years before the DMV decided her vanity plates weren’t so funny. But Bennett-Manas had the last laugh: the DMV reinstated her plates a few days later, saying the phrase didn’t clearly fall into one of the prohibited categories.


When a police officer spotted a 2003 Chevy Cavalier sporting these plates around Puyallup, Washington, he saw something other than an extreme Insane Clown Posse Fan proclaiming her enthusiasm for the band. Officer Mike Lusk saw a license plate that proclaimed enthusiasm for a criminal street gang. Juggalos, AKA fans of the band, have been officially classified as a non-traditional gang by the FBI and several states. The plate was revoked, as was another plate that read JUGGALO.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.