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9 Amazing Tipping Stories

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ThinkStock

Last month, a waitress at a Waffle House in North Carolina was given a $1,000 tip from a generous customer—but she had to return it due to the restaurant's policy on large gratuity via credit card. However, after some light online uproar, the waitress finally got her tip when the customer wrote her a check.

Add this to the list of rare instances when we hear about excessive and genuinely kind tippers. Fortunately, such people are out there.

1. A $500 Tip As A Last Wish

Aaron Collins always felt sympathetic toward those who worked in the service industry after he worked in a pizzeria and watched his best friend put herself through school as a waitress. That’s why he added a stipulation to his will: He asked his family to leave a huge $500 tip at a restaurant. The 30-year-old died unexpectedly last year, and because he didn’t leave any money to his relatives to complete this last wish, his brother, Seth, put up a website, aaroncollins.org, to collect donations. What he didn’t anticipate was that the donations would keep coming, allowing Seth to leave $500 tips at restaurants around the country, starting in August of last year. All of the events are documented on YouTube videos that are linked to on Aaron’s memorial website.

Since the website was set up, Aaron’s family has collected $65,000 and given back over $22,000 in tips. The restaurants are chosen randomly and servers receive the tip no matter how good the quality of service actually is. Of course, while the family enjoys surprising their servers with the amazing tips, they still prefer to have a home-cooked meal on occasion. "Some weeks I may be able to take a break from going out to eat," Seth said. Even so, the family intends to keep giving out these tips on a weekly basis until the donations are completely expended.

2. The $500 Pizza Dinner

Rhode Islander Kristen Ruggiero is a single mom of three who has had a tough time making ends meet by working the restaurant job she’s held for the last 15 years. One day last year, a couple came in and ordered a pizza, a salad, and a pitcher of beer only to settle their $42 bill by leaving $500 on the table. At first, the waitress thought they made a mistake and accidentally left the five hundreds thinking they were ten dollar bills. So Kristen set the money aside until the pair returned to the restaurant and tried to return it to them. That’s when they assured her that the $458 tip was no mistake. "He said no it was absolutely not a mistake, you deserved it," Kristen said.

Grateful for the tip, Kristen took the opportunity to pay off some of her bills and then spent the remainder on a trip to Six Flags with her kids.

3. The $500 Memorial Tip

Shea Mower paid most of his college tuition with tips he earned working at a restaurant, so when he was killed in a DUI car crash, his friends decided the best way to honor him would be to pay it forward by giving one lucky waitress a $500 tip. The group all chipped in for the tip and on Shea’s birthday, they had dinner at Outback Steakhouse. At the end of the meal, the group donated the entire sum to their waitress.

Prior to their big tip, the group also gave a high school student a $500 scholarship in Shea’s memory to raise awareness about drunk driving.

4. The $5000 Tip

Greg Rubar was a waiter at D’Amico’s Italian Market Café in Houston for 16 years and been waiting on one particular couple at the restaurant for eight years when the customers handed him fifty $100 bills. The man told Greg, “I’m not going to be giving you a tip for awhile. Take this money. Go buy yourself a car. ”

The instructions to buy a car weren’t just random—the couple knew that Greg recently lost his car when it was flooded in a thunderstorm a few weeks prior. In fact, the waiter had to take taxies and borrow his restaurant’s catering truck just to get to and from work.

Greg tried to return the money to the couple, but they refused, insisting he get a car with the cash.

5. Johnny Depp Continues To Be Awesome


Flickr: ATempletonPhoto.com

As if we need another reason to admire Johnny Depp, it turns out that he’s also a fantastic tipper. While filming Public Enemies, the star visited Gibson’s steakhouse in Chicago many times and, on one particular evening, he and his group arrived at 11:30 p.m. and stayed for three hours while they ordered bottle after bottle of $500 wine. When they left, Depp left the server a $4000 tip for his efforts.

“I have worked with a lot of stars like Sean Connery and Robert De Niro but Johnny Depp is my favorite. He is a very soft spoken guy who is very charming and sweet—when I wait for him he doesn’t like to be too fussed over and is not in any way demanding,” said server Mohammed A . Sekhani. “He may be one of the most famous actors in the world but he is a very humble guy and a really cool dude.”

6. Nice Gals Don’t Always Finish Last

Most waiters who received a $12,000 tip wouldn’t report it to the IRS, let alone turn it into the police. But Stacy Knutson is a very honest woman, and after customers left her one of the most generous tips in history, she turned it into the police, worried it was stolen or tied to some crime. The mother of five was told that she could keep the cash if no one claimed it in 60 days, but after the waiting period ended, officials told her she couldn’t keep it after all because it smelled like marijuana and had thus been seized under state law. To compensate her for her honesty, police offered her $1000.

Knutson refused the offer and filed suit to get the full sum back. The police quickly changed their minds and returned the full amount to the waitress.

7. The World’s Largest Tip

Here’s one of the most famous tipping stories of all time. In fact, this story eventually became the basis of the movie It Could Happen to You, starring Nicholas Cage.

In 1984, Police detective Robert Cunningham was a regular at Sal’s Pizzeria for eight years. As Phyllis Penzo waited tables there six nights a week for 24 years, he and the waitress got to know each other pretty well. One day, when Robert was settling his tab, he asked the waitress if she’d be interested in splitting a lottery ticket with him instead of receiving a tip. She agreed and helped him choose the numbers. Robert called her a few days later to let her know he just won $6 million dollars and that half of that was hers.

Unlike the movie version, the two were both happily married to other people, and Robert’s wife was more than happy to split the money with Phyllis—but let’s be honest, without the two falling in love, it wouldn’t have been much of a movie.

8. It Could Happen to Someone Else Too

History repeated itself in 1995, when John Steele, an auto parts worker in Toronto left a lottery ticket as a tip for his favorite waitress, Tracy Dalton. He asked her to let him know if she won anything and she agreed to share any prizes from the ticket. A few days later, the ticket ended up being worth $184,700, meaning both parties got a cool $92,350.

9. Pick A Number

While skeptical Redditors point out that this could easily be the customer copy of this receipt and not the legitimate merchant copy, the story behind this image is pretty wonderful if it is true. Supposedly, the customer asked the server to pick a number between 1 and 10 and when the server picked 7, this is the tip he got.

This post originally appeared last year.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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