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Portland Parks and Recreation

11 Fun Facts About Mill Ends Park, Portland’s Leprechaun Colony

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Portland Parks and Recreation

“Ireland” may be the most popular first answer given when someone is asked about where leprechauns live, but Portland, Oregon, has its very own population of little green-clad Irishmen, too. And they’ve even got a dedicated area—Mill Ends Park—to prove it. Here are 11 fun facts about what has been described as “the only leprechaun colony west of Ireland.” 

1. THE PARK IS THE CREATION OF JOURNALIST DICK FAGAN.

Upon his return home from World War II in 1946, Dick Fagan went back to work as a journalist with the Oregon Journal, with a second-floor office overlooking what is now known as Naito Parkway. Amidst all the traffic and hustling that took place outside of his window, Fagan became fascinated with one element of his view: a tiny hole that had been placed in the median for a light pole. 

2. THE LIGHT POLE NEVER MATERIALIZED.

Fagan watched as weeds began to fill in the spot where the light pole was meant to be placed. But he wasn’t happy with that either, and so he planted some flowers there. 

3. FROM THERE, FAGAN’S IMAGINATION ONLY GREW.

Making that tiny hole in the ground pretty was only the beginning of the attention Fagan began lavishing upon the space. In his Oregon Journal column, “Mill Ends”—which, like the irregular pieces of leftover lumber it was named for, shared interesting little stories— he often referenced the leprechauns who lived in the park. 

4. THE HEAD LEPRECHAUN’S NAME WAS PATRICK O’TOOLE.

Fagan, conveniently, was the only person who could see Patrick O'Toole, the leader of the leprechaun community. He also apparently spoke to him: When the mayor of Portland proposed an 11:00 p.m. curfew on all city parks, Fagan published a response from O’Toole, who threatened a leprechaun curse upon the mayor. (The leprechauns were subsequently allowed to stay.)

5. MILL ENDS PARK WAS DEDICATED IN 1948.

Due to Fagan’s Irish heritage, and the leprechauns who purportedly inhabited the park, Mills Ends Park became dedicated as such, quite appropriately, on March 17, 1948. 

6. IN 1976, IT BECAME AN OFFICIAL CITY PARK.

Twenty-eight years after its dedication, Mill Ends Park became an official city park in 1976, again on St. Patrick’s Day. Each year, various holiday-themed events take place on the site.

7. IT IS THE WORLD’S SMALLEST PARK.

Mill Ends Park measures just two square feet. Which seems an adequate size for what Fagan was fond of describing as the “only leprechaun colony west of Ireland.” Guinness World Records has recognized it since 1971.

8. FAGAN ISN’T THE PARK’S ONLY FAN.

The park has become something of a must-see oddity in Portland, and many residents and visitors have made their own contributions to its growth (at least culturally speaking). A tiny swimming pool (with a butterfly diving board), statues, and a pint-sized Ferris wheel—which was delivered by a normal-sized crane—are just a few of its amenities.

9. THE PARK HAD TO BE MOVED IN 2006.

In order to accommodate construction on Naito Parkway in 2006, the park had to be moved temporarily. It moved back in on March 16, 2007—the day before St. Patrick’s Day—with bagpipers playing and Fagan’s wife looking on (Fagan passed away in 1969).

10. A MAN WAS ARRESTED FOR PROTESTING AT THE PARK.

In December 2011, the Occupy Portland movement installed a flash mob of plastic army men and tiny signs at the park to illustrate their mission. One of the demonstrators, Cameron Scott Whitten, was arrested when he refused to leave.

11. THE PARK WAS ROBBED IN 2013.

A week before St. Patrick’s Day in 2013, someone stole the park’s one and only tree … only to return it one week later. 

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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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