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9 Terrible Props Used in Bank Robberies

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By Lauren Hansen

1. Spaghetti sauce

On April 13, a woman allegedly walked into a Detroit bank, put a heavy cloth sack on the counter, and demanded cash from the teller. She said she had a bomb in the bag, which, considering its heft, was enough to convince the teller to fork over an undisclosed amount of money. The robber escaped, and the bomb squad swooped in to find that the threat was actually just two cans of spaghetti sauce. The suspect is still on the loose.

2. A fake plastic gun

You might think a fake plastic gun would be the ideal weapon to fool your victims into submission. But if your gun looks too real, you might actually inspire people to fight back. Which is exactly what happened on March 1 at a bank in Trimble, Mo. While a masked man was allegedly threatening a bank teller, another bank employee, who was in an office, grabbed his Smith & Wesson .357 revolver from his desk and fired two rounds at the robber. The man was struck in the jaw, but managed to escape, leading police on a wild car chase. He didn't make it very far, however, and was later arrested. He remains hospitalized in federal custody pending a detention hearing. The bank employee who fired the shots reportedly has a concealed weapon permit and is not expected to face charges.

3. A toilet plunger

In April 2012, Lawrence Deptola allegedly tried to rob not one bank but three in upstate New York while brandishing a toilet plunger. According to reports, the 49-year-old entered the banks yelling obscenities and then ordered tellers to put money in a bag while waving the plunger around. Police chased Deptola on foot after he entered the third bank and arrested him on charges of attempted third-degree robbery. No one was hurt, and no money was stolen.

4. McDonald's apple pies

In February 2012, Daniel Hegwood allegedly entered a Wells Fargo Bank in Sacramento, Calif., and told a teller he had a dangerous bomb inside his McDonald's fast food bag. The teller reportedly gave him a hefty amount of cash and Hegwood fled on foot, "bomb" in hand. Police caught up to him, though, and found the McDonald's bag wasn't filled with explosives, but with delicious apple pies. When he resisted arrest and threatened to detonate the bomb in his backpack, police called in a bomb squad. "Certainly in this day and age you have to take every threat seriously," Officer Laura Peck said. "But, with hindsight, knowing the bag contained apple pies, it gives us insight into the lack of sophistication in his methods. Clearly, he's not that good at bank robbery." The 33-year-old was reportedly arrested for robbery, resisting arrest, and other charges.

5. A glue gun

In December 2011, Aaron Randolph allegedly walked into an Indianapolis, Ind., bank and held the employees up with a glue gun. The tellers believed the gun to be real and handed over an unspecified amount of cash before the 23-year-old burglar fled. To be fair, Randolph had cleverly wrapped the arts and crafts tool in black electrical tape and also said he had a bomb. Police were able to track Randolph down with the help of surveillance video and reports of a stolen car parked less than a mile from the scene of the crime. At the time, the suspect was reportedly held on $80,000 bond.

6. A box of macaroni

In 2009, Mark Anthony Carpenter allegedly walked into a North Carolina bank, claimed his box of macaroni was a bomb, and demanded money. The tellers, however, were skeptical of how uncooked pasta could cause them harm and so refused to give him any money. The 44-year-old then reportedly fled, but was apprehended by police in a nearby woods after a brief foot-chase.

7. A garage door opener

Just before closing time at an Ohio bank on March 15, 1995, Jacqueline Paluszak reportedly walked in and demanded money from three tellers. She threatened them with a bomb that she said she could detonate with the device in her hand. The tellers almost fell for it until they noticed the word "Sears" on the end of her device. They wasted no time and jumped the woman, forcing her to the floor, where they sat on her until police arrived. The 47-year-old, who was indeed holding a garage door opener, was charged with unarmed bank robbery.

8. Play-Doh

In the early '90s, a bad economy hit 37-year-old Alfred Walleser hard. Laid off from his job as a liquor salesman, the father of two said he turned to robbery for financial support. Using his daughter's Play-Doh, aluminum foil, and cassette tapes, the Florida man mangled together fake bombs which he used to rob or attempt to rob 16 banks. In two completed robberies, he reportedly walked away with $9,100. He had become so notorious that the FBI gave him a nickname — the "Bank Bomber." But in 1993, he was arrested, confessed to the crimes, and pleaded guilty in federal court.

9. Chewing gum

This 1956 bank robbery is brought to you by The Little Rascals B-roll. A bank teller in a Detroit bank was counting money when 16-year-old Raymond Siebert reportedly distracted her with a request to check on a 50-cent service charge levied against his account. While the teller was gone, Siebert allegedly stuck his wad of chewing gum to the end of a stick, poked it through the bars of the teller's desk and managed to lift 10 $50 bills from the pile. When the teller returned, the teen was gone with $500. The teller only put two and two together when she was short at the end of the day. Police picked up the boy, and an FBI agent found the cash in his home.

Sources: The Associated Press (2), The BlazeCBS News, Detroit Free PressEllensburg Daily RecordThe Huffington PostNew York Daily NewsSun

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]