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Google Japan

10 of the Internet's Best April Fools' Day Pranks This Year

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Google Japan

April Fools' Day is a horrible day for link bloggers like myself. I am always looking for something new, fun, and different on the web, but on April the first, it’s hard to tell if something is new, fun, and different, or just made up to see who’s gullible. And the strangest things that could possibly be thought up are just as weird as things that really happen! Here are some of the best April Fools' Day pranks you may encounter today on the ‘net.

1. Homestar Runner

Homestar Runner, the ultra popular website that hasn’t been updated in years, has an update. Or rather, they have a flash intro telling about updating the site, but that’s it. The only new content is the intro about the updates. But that may be enough for them to say they’ve updated the site this year.

2. YouTube Trends

YouTube takes credit for every viral meme (well, the successful ones) on the internet. Today, they are sharing what memes to look forward to in the next year. The strange thing is that the power of suggestion might actually bring some of these trends to reality. But we hope not.

3. Cheeteau by Chester

This is just what we all wanted: a perfume with the scent of Cheetos! Cheeteau by Chester has a seductive ad that calls it “The scent of hunger.” It will make you smell like a basement dwelling video game geek, even if you aren’t! Popsugar scored an interview with Chester Cheetah about his new fragrance.

4. Rosetta Stone Klingon

Honestly, it’s about time they offered a Rosetta Stone set to learn Klingon! And who better to endorse the product than Michael Dorn? This set, despite the $269 price tag, is sure to be a hit among the kind of folks I see around the internet.

Klingon may be a difficult language for humans to wrap their smooth heads around, but it's made even more complicated by the constant threat that saying the wrong thing might accidentally land you in a battle to the death. And that's why you need the comprehensive Learn to Speak Klingon course from Rosetta Stone.

Get yours today (and only today) from Think Geek. So far, the response is pretty much “Please, be real!” and “Shut up and take my money!” Think Geek may have gotten themselves into a worm hole of development that will suck up a lot of time the rest of the year. After all, when an idea is this good, they’ve moved heaven and earth to make it happen for real on several occasions

5. The Magic Hand

Google Japan rolled out a gizmo that will take the very last difficulty from using your handheld devices: the wear and tear on your fingers. This is the Magic Hand, a robotic finger that you control to push buttons and swipe for you. It comes with many attachments! The invention is explained in Japanese in a video

6. Headdit

The mods at reddit have a similar invention called headdit, an acronym for hand equivalent action detection. The idea is that you only need to nod to navigate links. A vigorous nod will grant an upvote, while a frown confers a downvote, thus freeing your hands for more important things. There’s also a cat mode, in which your cat can do the movements for you.

7. Gmail’s Shelfie Feature

What’s a “shelfie”? It’s a shareable selfie. When you take a selfie, you want to share it with everyone, whether they want to see it or not! Usually, that’s what Facebook is for, but it’s not quite intrusive enough. So Gmail is offering shelfies as a background image for every email you send through Gmail.

8. Pokémon Challenge

Also from Google Japan, there’s the Pokémon Challenge, which is also available in English. Use your iOS or Android device to search for Pokémon around the world on Google Maps. 

9. American Beagle Outfitters

Sometimes an idea is just too good. American Eagle launched a line of clothing for dogs a week ago and called it American Beagle. The stunt was both for fun and to help raise funds for the ASPCA through the sale of gift cards featuring the fashionable dogs. Today the site revealed the hoax, but the joke was on them. The response was so great that American Eagle is scrambling to offer real doggie outfits, in a more limited selection, in time for the Christmas season.

10. CrunchCoin

First there was BitCoin, then the memefied clone DogeCoin came along to compete as the preferred online currency exchange medium. Now TechCrunch introduces CrunchCoin, named after themselves and the cereal mascot Cap'n Crunch. Cute, huh? Think before you invest heavily.

See pranks from previous years in these posts: The 14 Greatest Hoaxes of All TimeGreat Moments in April Fools' Day Online, 8 Sports-Related April Fools' Day Hoaxes, and A Word on the Origin of April Fools' Day.

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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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