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11 French Travel Tips for Visiting America

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The Internet is full of French travelers who've experienced the United States and have things to say about the strange ways of Americans. With the help of Google Translate, Americans can get a peek at these revelations. We know that there are no doubt many Flossers who can translate French better than Google can (though probably not as hilariously), and we welcome any additional information in the comments.

1. Be Friendly to Nosy Strangers. Grind Their Knuckles!

Our custom is to kiss before, during, and after each social encounter, with 1, 2, 3, or 4 kisses. This is not the custom in the United States. For a friend, we will hug, with a great tapping on the back and a big smile. For colleagues, greet with a good handshake. Americans have a firm handshake, so do not hesitate to grind their knuckles. It is also a sign you have confidence in yourself.

Be prepared for an onslaught of friendliness. You may be approached by a stranger on the street asking you where you got your coat. Passersby greet each other cheerfully in the street. Your neighbor may compliment you on the curve of your muscles, and the cashier at the supermarket may ask you what you are doing with this beautiful weekend (and the three cases of rosé you've purchased). [Source]

2. You Have to Help People, And Look Like You Really Mean It.

A passerby stumbles and sprawls in the street, an old lady can barely control Brutus at the end of a leash, a small tricycle driver loses control of his vehicle. Politeness means, of course, that you come and help all these people. American culture wants you to quit all your activities and rescue the unfortunate. In America, you cannot pretend to not have noticed all these little quirks. You must rush to provide assistance to all who need it. [Source]

Whether in the street, public transport or any public place, we must adopt this reflex. Hard, tough, because it must be done without looking first to the right and left to see if someone is already trying to help the person in trouble. In short, it must be done spontaneously and with good heart. I like it when it happens: for example my keys jumped out of my bike basket when I hit a hole, and the Americans rushed at me to help. It's cool. I smile. [Source]

See Also: 4 Russian Travel Tips for Visiting America

3. They Feel No Humiliation about Their Eating Habits, even when asking for a "Doggy Bag."

Americans eat and drink anything and at any time of the day: in the street, in a meeting at work, in the car, on the subway, in the elevator, the movies ... So, there are drink rests everywhere: cinema seats, baby strollers, shopping carts at the supermarket, in cars, some bike handlebars. [Source]

The portions are often gargantuan in the United States (but you already knew that). Americans are not embarrassed to ask for a "doggy bag" to take home. They'll even take home the rest of the tortillas appetizer.

The art of asking for a doggy bag (for a French person) is sometimes difficult to implement; between servers who disappear faster than their shadows, and the dread that you will appear stingy, it is not always easy. [Source]

4. You Can Not Abandon Ugly Children. In Fact You Must Praise Them.

Want to drop off your pants at the cleaners, leave an item with the hotel receptionist or pop into the supermarket while the kids do their homework? Know that leaving children alone, whether at the home, in the car, or the hotel is frowned upon, even prohibited. [Source]

Rejoicing in the presence of children or pets. This is the correlate of "smile to strangers," it is mandatory to have a smile or a little "how cute" tilt to your head if you come across a child or pet. Even if they are ugly. [Source]

5. The White Man and the Countdown.

Crossing the road as a pedestrian is not always easy, you often have to wait for ages. When the white man is on, you can cross. And then a stressful countdown shows the time remaining for you to cross, sometimes only a few seconds to cross large avenues. [Source]

6. They Don't Steal Your Stuff!

If it should happen I need to leave my stuff unattended when I'm in the coffee shop, I just ask someone to look at it for the time it takes for me to go to the toilet. When I forget something in my bike basket, it is still there, even at night. And when you have packages waiting for you at home, they remain in the lobby and no one takes them. It may seem normal and civic way of doing it, but I am surprised. Since coming to America, I've become much less suspicious. [Source]

7. Their Plumbing is Insulting.

The stuff that insulted my common sense is the fixed heads of showers[Source]

I still have not understood how it is that in my American sink I have, in addition to the tap, a flexible head (as in a French shower) to rinse the corners of the sink but in my shower / tub which is three times larger, I have a fixed head on the wall! No logic! [Source]

The other very strange occurrence is violent flushing. Be prepared when you flush to have the impression of being in an airplane toilet! [Source]

See Also: 10 Japanese Travel Tips for Visiting America 

8. Everything is so damn inspiring.

"Inspiring" became a word I heard every day: everything must be "inspiring" and push transcendence. We go to the movies, there is a choice between the biopic Lincoln, the Avengers or Misérables, each so inspiring in their own way. The books are inspiring, everyday people are inspiring (such as all the people with children and a job at the same time, teachers, etc...). I confess that I have a little trouble with this cult of everyday heroes. [Source]

9. They have orange pill pots and carefully prepare your medication, like in the movies!

I have to arm myself with patience for each passage to the pharmacy. Here, we will prepare your requirements in an orange pot in your name, with the correct number of tablets and the dose recommended above (yes, just like in the movies). So, it takes for ages. The trick? Post your order and continue shopping, then return later. [Source]

10. They All Go to the Bathroom Together in the Same Room. No Walls or Nothing.

If you want privacy (in a public restroom), no chance. There are no real walls, only partitions that do not even go to the ground. So you can see the shoes of your colleagues, hear all the noises ... And even the doors do not help much. You can see the faces of the occupants through the slits in the doorway. [Source]

11. Cut in Line and an American Will Cut You.

The film will start in 3 minutes and there are still 15 people in front of you, including a family of six children who are unable to decide anything. You would be tempted to quietly scrape forward a few places so as to be sure you get your popcorn and miss nothing of the film.

Never! In the United States, small barriers often mark out the entries, lines on the ground indicate where to stop and there is no “He who goes hunting loses his place" mentality there. [Source]

There is no chaotic rush to be first, not even if a spot opens unexpectedly, no "I didn't see you there." Here each have their turn in order of arrival, even the elderly. It's pretty relaxing actually, even though I liked the excitement of notching in the queue. [Source]

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]