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10 Strange Protests

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These groups eschewed typical protests for something a little more creative.

1. Bring in the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army (CIRCA)

CIRCA is an anti-authority, UK-based collection of clowns that protest globalization, war, and other activist issues. The group is most well-known for its protests against the 2003 invasion of Iraq and George W. Bush’s visit to the UK during that same year. The group is nonviolent and follows the tenets of civil disobedience. According to its website:

CIRCA is reclaiming the art of Rebel Clowning, it’s combatants don’t pretend to be clowns, they are clowns, real trained clowns. Clowns that have run away from the anaemic safety of the circus and escaped the banality of kids parties, Fools that have thrown away their sceptres and broken the chains that shackled them to the throne.

So what kind of training do recruits for the Rebel Clown Army have to endure? There are five phases of “Basic Rebel Clown Training”: 1) Finding the Inner Clown; 2) Subversive Play; 3) Civil Disobedience and Direct Action; 4) Bouffon Manoeuvers; and 5) Marching and Drilling.

Ironically, CIRCA has created an “army” to respond to war issues. This doesn’t seem to bother them, though. According to their website, CIRCA is an army “because we live on a planet in permanent war—a war of money against life, of profit against dignity, of progress against the future.”

2. The Lone Lucha Libre Biker Protest

In 2009, leaders in Mexico City closed the government-owned Central Light and Power Company, which provided electricity for much of the surrounding area. The closing resulted in the loss of many workers’ jobs. By presidential ruling, many of the employees' unions were also banned.

In 2011, a supporter from the Mexican Electricians Union dressed up in a luchador cape and costume, hopped on a motorcycle, and charged at a group of police standing outside of the electric company’s headquarters. The bike and the biker’s helmet were decorated with union memorabilia. As the luchador did donuts in the parking lot of the closed electric company, the police fired at him with bean-bag guns.

3. Nude Calendar Pothole Protests

Back in 2006, a group of Canadian residents from Leader, Saskatchewan, protested against a fairly common complaint: poor road conditions. Apparently, the roads of the highways in Leader were filled with horrible potholes, and drivers often had to dodge them to travel safely down the road. These Canadian residents decided to create a 2007 calendar which featured people posing nude inside of the worst potholes—one naked man is featured floating in a pothole in a full-sized canoe. The calendar sold 3000 copies at $20 each, and Saskatchewan’s government finally agreed to fix the highways.

Others have addressed pothole issues in other ways. Citizens in Raipur, India held fake religious ceremonies to name potholes in honor of the city’s officials. Russian protestors have marked potholes with neon paint, and citizens in Uganda have sold fish from water-filled holes.

4. Channeling Avatar

In Israel, there is a huge controversy over the separation barrier in the West Bank Village that divides the Israeli and Palestinian communities. In 2010, Palestinian protesters dressed as Avatar characters—in blue clothing, blue body paint, and makeshift loincloths—as they demonstrated in Bilin to reference the struggle of, and show their affinity for, the film’s characters.

5. Squirting Milk at Police

While most of us would celebrate dropping milk prices, the issue is a common concern for farmers who sell milk to make a living. In 2009, more than 3000 farmers in Brussels congregated outside the EU’s headquarters to protest plunging milk prices in the area.

One farmer began milking his cow in the middle of the street and squirted the milk—straight from the cow’s udder—at a group of riot police. Other farmers squirted beer at the police and threw bottles, stones, and pitchforks. Millions of gallons of milk were dumped into the streets and surrounding fields or given away for free. At one point, a farmer’s cow became frightened and sprang loose. The cow took off and chased a worker down the street.

Farmers in India also protested plummeting milk prices. On April 25, 2012, angry farmers in New Delhi poured milk on leaders from milk-products companies.

6. Hanging From Shark Hooks

In 2011, performance artist Alice Newstead decided to protest shark finning, a practice in which fishermen capture sharks, cut off their fins for shark fin soup dishes, and dump the bodies back into the ocean.

Newstead decided to hang from hooks in a window storefront in San Francisco to highlight the plight of sharks. The hooks are the same ones used during the shark finning process and were placed through the skin on her back. Newstead was covered in metallic body paint to simulate the color of a shark.

7. Underwater Protests

In 2010, advocates at Greenpeace installed 400 life-sized human statues underwater off the coast of Mexico. The statues were placed 9 meters underwater and are intended to signify the effects of global warming and rising water levels.

Brady Bradshaw, a representative from the Greenpeace U.S. student network, stated that “without action to reduce greenhouse gas emission, 100 million people or more could be in danger of losing their homes, their lives, or both to rising seas.”

The installation’s message was intended for the UN Cancun climate talks and meant to encourage nations to make pledges for reducing carbon emissions.

8. Nuclear Suits and Umbrellas

On the one-year anniversary of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi disaster—which occurred when a tsunami hit nuclear reactors in 2011 and spewed radiation into the surrounding area—Greenpeace activists gathered in the crowded streets of Jakarta to bring attention to the dangers of nuclear energy, donning radiation suits and masks and carrying black umbrellas marked with nuclear symbols.

9. Giant Pigeons

In 2001, people dressed up in giant, 7-foot-tall pigeon costumes and blocked traffic at a pedestrian crossing near Trafalgar Square in London. A local advertising company created the protest to challenge the Greater London Authority, who had recently banned a pigeon-feed seller from Trafalgar Square despite the fact that the seller had been there for many years.

10. Giant Snowmen

In 2010, two environmental activists dressed up as giant snowmen in Berlin to protest global warming. The two stood alone in a field of snow. Still no word on how their two-man protest fared.

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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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Library of Congress
10 Facts About the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
May 29, 2017
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Library of Congress

On Veterans Day, 1921, President Warren G. Harding presided over an interment ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery for an unknown soldier who died during World War I. Since then, three more soldiers have been added to the Tomb of the Unknowns (also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier) memorial—and one has been disinterred. Below, a few things you might not know about the historic site and the rituals that surround it.


Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

To ensure a truly random selection, four unknown soldiers were exhumed from four different WWI American cemeteries in France. U.S. Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger, who was wounded in combat and received the Distinguished Service Medal, was chosen to select a soldier for burial at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington. After the four identical caskets were lined up for his inspection, Younger chose the third casket from the left by placing a spray of white roses on it. The chosen soldier was transported to the U.S. on the USS Olympia, while the other three were reburied at Meuse Argonne American Cemetery in France.


One had served in the European Theater and the other served in the Pacific Theater. The Navy’s only active-duty Medal of Honor recipient, Hospitalman 1st Class William R. Charette, chose one of the identical caskets to go on to Arlington. The other was given a burial at sea.


WikimediaCommons // Public Domain

The soldiers were disinterred from the National Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. This time, Army Master Sgt. Ned Lyle was the one to choose the casket. Along with the unknown soldier from WWII, the unknown Korean War soldier lay in the Capitol Rotunda from May 28 to May 30, 1958.


Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Allan Jay Kellogg, Jr., selected the Vietnam War representative during a ceremony at Pearl Harbor.


Wikipedia // Public Domain

Thanks to advances in mitochondrial DNA testing, scientists were eventually able to identify the remains of the Vietnam War soldier. On May 14, 1998, the remains were exhumed and tested, revealing the “unknown” soldier to be Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie (pictured). Blassie was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. After his identification, Blassie’s family had him moved to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis. Instead of adding another unknown soldier to the Vietnam War crypt, the crypt cover has been replaced with one bearing the inscription, “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen, 1958-1975.”


The Tomb was designed by architect Lorimer Rich and sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, but the actual carving was done by the Piccirilli Brothers. Even if you don’t know them, you know their work: The brothers carved the 19-foot statue of Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial, the lions outside of the New York Public Library, the Maine Monument in Central Park, the DuPont Circle Fountain in D.C., and much more.


Tomb Guards come from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment "The Old Guard". Serving the U.S. since 1784, the Old Guard is the oldest active infantry unit in the military. They keep watch over the memorial every minute of every day, including when the cemetery is closed and in inclement weather.


Members of the Old Guard must apply for the position. If chosen, the applicant goes through an intense training period, in which they must pass tests on weapons, ceremonial steps, cadence, military bearing, uniform preparation, and orders. Although military members are known for their neat uniforms, it’s said that the Tomb Guards have the highest standards of them all. A knowledge test quizzes applicants on their memorization—including punctuation—of 35 pages on the history of the Tomb. Once they’re selected, Guards “walk the mat” in front of the Tomb for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on the time of year and time of day. They work in 24-hour shifts, however, and when they aren’t walking the mat, they’re in the living quarters beneath it. This gives the sentinels time to complete training and prepare their uniforms, which can take up to eight hours.


The Tomb Guard badge is the least awarded badge in the Army, and the second least awarded badge in the overall military. (The first is the astronaut badge.) Tomb Guards are held to the highest standards of behavior, and can have their badge taken away for any action on or off duty that could bring disrespect to the Tomb. And that’s for the entire lifetime of the Tomb Guard, even well after his or her guarding duty is over. For the record, it seems that Tomb Guards are rarely female—only three women have held the post.


Everything the guards do is a series of 21, which alludes to the 21-gun salute. According to

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.