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10 Things Various Celebrities Decided to Boycott

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When they got fed up, celebs left these things behind—sometimes temporarily, and sometimes for good.

1. Florida

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Florida won't be the sunshine of Stevie Wonder's life ... A day after the Zimmerman trial verdict, the legendary soul singer announced that he's boycotting Florida until the "Stand Your Ground" self-defense law is abolished. "As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world," Wonder said. That would take 23 other states—including Illinois, Oregon, and even Michigan, home of Motown—off his tour schedule.

2. Kick-Ass 2

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Critics are one thing. But what happens when a leading man gives his own movie a bad review? In June, Jim Carrey denounced Kick-Ass 2, claiming that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December had changed his views on movie violence. The movie's executive producer quickly rushed to its defense. Despite Carrey's change of heart, the actor is probably contractually obligated to walk the red carpet and promote Kick-Ass 2 when it opens on August 16.

3. Instagram

Celebrities were outraged when Instagram announced changes to its terms of use that would allow the company to sell users' images to advertisers without notification. Even the paparazzi doesn't do that! Pink, Olivia Wilde, Kate Walsh, and model Bar Rafaeli were just a few famous Instagram users who threatened to delete their accounts when the change went into effect on January 16. Pink kept her word, leaving behind 12 million followers. Wilde no longer posts pictures. Walsh and Rafaeli still use the site. Stars: They're just like us.

4. Zero Dark Thirty

The 2012 war film Zero Dark Thirty made many viewers uncomfortable, including actors Martin Sheen and Ed Asner. The two, along with Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences member David Clennon, claimed the film promoted torture and started a campaign against it during the 2013 Academy Awards season. Zero Dark Thirty received five nominations, but only tied with Skyfall for Best Sound Editing.

5. Two and a Half Men

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Two years after becoming the highest paid child star on television, 19-year-old Angus T. Jones urged the public not to watch Two and a Half Men. The born again actor called the show "filth" during a video interview with the religious website Forerunner Chronicles. Jones issued an apology the next day. Former co-star Charlie Sheen's response: "I like the apology his lawyers wrote for him—that was pretty good." Jones will play a smaller recurring role in season 11.

6. Awards campaigning

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Mo'Nique was thrilled when her performance in Precious was nominated for an Academy Award in 2009. But she wasn't eager to campaign for the Oscar with countless interviews and media appearances, like most actors do. So she didn't, and it led to an angry backlash. Film industry insiders and critics called Mo'Nique unprofessional and ungrateful. She won the Oscar, anyway.

7. Hugo Boss

The same year that Mo'Nique took home an Oscar, Danny Glover told attendees what not to wear. Fashion house Hugo Boss was set to close its Cleveland plant and lay off 400 workers a few weeks after the ceremony. Glover and the labor union Workers United urged Hollywood stars to dress up in another label in protest. Most Oscar-goers went along with the plan, and the plant stayed open. In 2012, Hugo Boss workers signed a three-year contract with the company.

8. Jay Leno

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Thousands of supporters proclaimed "I'm With Coco" when Conan O'Brien left The Tonight Show and was replaced by his predecessor Jay Leno. Fellow late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel even compared Leno to Jason from the Friday the 13th movies: “Just when you think he’s dead, he comes back.” Every other late night talk show host agreed. In May, NBC announced that Leno's finally being put to rest. Jimmy Fallon will take over The Tonight Show on February 24, 2014.

9. Hilton Hotels

In a 2007 appearance on The Tyra Banks Show, Senator Barack Obama revealed that his 9-year-old daughter, Malia, had been watching the news and didn't approve of Paris Hilton's bad behavior. At the time, Hilton had been sentenced to jail for driving with a suspended license after an earlier drunk driving arrest. Obama explained that Malia feels so strongly that she's asked her parents not to stay in Hilton hotels. Maybe she has a future in politics, too.

10. Cristal

Diss and ye shall receive. In a 2006 interview with The Economist, Frederic Rouzaud, managing director of the company that produces Cristal, was asked if mentions in rap music have been detrimental to the high-end champagne brand. His response: "That's a good question, but what can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it. I'm sure Dom Perignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business." Rapper Jay-Z immediately announced that he was pulling the bubbly from his 40/40 Club chain and wouldn't be drinking it at home, either. In the 2009 single "On to the Next One," he rapped, "I used to drink Cristal, them f***ers racist/So I switched gold bottles on to that Spade s**t."

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
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We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

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