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8 Drivers Who Blindly Followed Their GPS Into Disaster

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By Lauren Hansen

"The machine knows where it's going!" yells Michael Scott in an episode of The Office, before driving his car directly into a lake.

If his blind dedication to GPS rings a little too true, fear not, dear driver, you aren't alone. Next time the mechanical voice tells you to hang a right where none exists, trust your own two eyes instead of making these mistakes:

1. Turning into the park

In 2013, a driver on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was trying to make his way to New Jersey. But somewhere around 88th Street, the GPS he was following led him astray. The driver turned west, but instead of turning onto a street, his sedan headed down the first few stairs of an entrance to Riverside Park. The car — and the driver — were stuck on the stairs until a tow truck could erase the evidence of a very public wrong turn.

2. Driving into the bay

Three Japanese tourists in Australia used their GPS to plan a drive to North Stradbroke Island, just off the coast of the eastern city of Brisbane. But what the machine didn't account for was the nine miles of water dividing the island from the mainland. The road turned to gravel, then to thick mud, then to gentle laps of water against the tires. The three were forced to abandon the vehicle and return on foot. Passengers aboard a passing ferry — the recommended way to get to the island — reportedly watched the whole embarrassing event unfold. A tow truck gave the poor tourists a ride back, and the car, not being worth the repair, was sent to the dump.

3. Continuing on and on and on

All Sabine Moreau wanted to do was pick up a friend from the train station, which was north of her home in Hainault Erquelinees, Brussels. But when the GPS directions took her south instead of north, the 67-year-old woman didn't question it. She stuck by her GPS when she saw the signs for the German towns of Frankfurt, Aachen, and Cologne. And when the lengthy trip forced her to refuel twice, and pull over to catch a few hours of shut-eye — Moreau didn't question the machine even then. Only when she entered the Croatian capital of Zagreb did she finally realize something was up. Her friend at the train station and her son had also caught on, and her son called the police. When Moreau finally returned home, all she said by way of explanation was, "I admit it's a little weird, but I was distracted."

4. Riding up to a cliff's edge

In 2009, Robert Jones' reliance on his satellite navigation system nearly got the best of him when he was driving in West Yorkshire, England. The "road" began to steepen and narrow, but still he plugged on. "It kept insisting the path was a road," he later explained, "so I just trusted it." Jones only realized how wrong he was when his car bumped up against a thin wire fence just inches from a 100-foot drop. He managed to get out safely, but the car remained balanced on the edge. It took a recovery team nine hours to haul the car away, and Jones was given a court citation for driving without care and attention.

5. Making a U-turn into a lake

In 2011, three women visiting Bellevue, Wash., were out after midnight, unable to find their way back to their hotel. After asking the GPS to re-route, they took what they thought was a road that would lead them to the highway. Instead, their SUV ended up sinking into deep water. The "road" turned out to be a boat launch, and the water a lake. All three managed to get out safely, but by the time the tow truck arrived, the SUV was completely submerged. "We've seen sitcom parodies of something like this and to actually see it is surprising," said a local fireman.

6. Running straight into a house

Early one foggy Saturday morning in 2011, a father was driving his wife and two kids through South Brunswick, N.J.  At a T intersection, where the only options were left and right, this driver opted instead to follow his GPS guidance and go straight. He missed the initial stop sign, ran over the lip of the curb, and continued for another 100 feet before hitting a house. Unfortunately, two passengers who were not wearing seat belts were hurt and taken to the hospital. "This stuff really happens," a police spokesman remarked.

7. Getting stuck in a cherry tree

In 2007, a 37-year-old German truck driver had his GPS guide him to a Swiss factory where he was to deliver his cargo. But instead of heeding the "no-entry" warning signs that should have deterred him, the driver followed the sound of the female voice until the truck ended up wedged in the cradle of a cherry tree. The truck was stuck fast, and the driver couldn't reverse. Local officials eventually had to chop down branches of the tree to get the truck out.

8. Veering into a sand pit

GPS often can't account for changes, like construction. But that's why drivers have eyes and, ideally, wits. Unfortunately, one or the other was missing from a German couple driving around Hamburg one night in 2006. The 80-year-old driver was so dedicated to his navigation's know-how that he ignored a highway's initial "closed for construction" sign, as well as several successive barricades, until he plowed right into a sand pit. Luckily, the motorists escaped uninjured, though their egos were likely bruised.

Sources: ABC NewsCNETDaily MailEl MundoKVAL.comNBCNews.com.auSoftpedia.com, West Side Rag

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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