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25 Things You Probably Don’t Know About Tampa

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Here are our favorite things we learned about the Big Guava.

1. The name Tampa is believed to come from the Calusa phrase “Sticks of Fire.”

2. That’s probably because Tampa sees some nasty lightning each summer, which is how the local hockey team got its name.

3. When it comes to sports, the city is no stranger to futility. It took the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 25 years to return a kickoff for a touchdown.

4. Babe Ruth hit his longest home run during an exhibition game in Tampa—it sailed 587 feet.

5. The Salvador Dali Museum in nearby St. Petersburg is an incredible place. To test the strength of its freestanding staircase, two rugby teams danced on it—to disco. Dali would have been proud.

6. During Prohibition, Tampa was one of the top sellers of illegal liquor in the country.

7. In the 1980s, the city moved on to other hobbies. It was widely considered the death metal capital of the music world.

8. Tampa’s number one export? Phosphate.

9. Farmers love Tampa because all that phosphate is invaluable for fertilizer production.

10. Although back in the day, it was probably cigars—it’s still known as the “Cigar City.”

11. In 1929, the factory at Ybor City rolled approximately 500 million stogies!

12. It can get hot in Florida, but the temperature in Tampa has never hit 100 degrees.

13. Still, it’s nice to stay cool. In 1851, Tampa native John Gorrie invented the first mechanical refrigeration system—paving the way for air conditioning.

14. The delicious Cuban sandwich? Not Cuban. It was likely invented in Tampa.

15. Want to visit Cuba without leaving Florida? Visit Jose Marti Park. It’s technically Cuban soil.

16. Each year, “pirates” attack Tampa during the Gasparilla Pirate Festival.

17. The world’s first scheduled passenger flight flew from St. Pete to Tampa in 1914.

18. Tickets cost $5!

19. Tampa Bay may be Florida’s biggest port, but the waterway is surprisingly shallow—only 12 feet deep.

20. Manmade channels had to be dredged to allow ships in.

21. When Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders were waiting to ship out for the Spanish-American War in 1898, they were stationed in Tampa.

22. Roosevelt wasn’t the only big name who came to Tampa during the conflict. Clara Barton arrived in town to help organize medical relief efforts.

23. Tampa is home to the world’s longest continuous sidewalk, Bayshore Boulevard. It’s 4.5 miles long!

24. Tampa is also home to Big Cat Rescue, an accredited sanctuary for big cats.

25. Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base may be the second most important government building outside of the Pentagon. It’s home to U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. action in the Middle East.

Correction: In an earlier version of this post, we incorrectly said visitors could play with the animals at the big cat sanctuary. People are not allowed to cuddle with the big cats. We regret the error. All images courtesy of iStock.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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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]

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