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11 Essentials to Pack for a Smarter Road Trip

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If you’re hitting the road for summer vacation, make sure you’re toting the right gear for a smooth, smart journey.

1. GPS Device

Having a portable one of these helps for adventures taken outside your car, too. There have to be at least 24 satellites in a “GPS constellation” of synchronized orbits in order for your GPS device to work. That’s a lot of rocket science and delicate mathematics, so take advantage of it.

2. Paper Atlas

An atlas you can hold in your hand is the ultimate back-up plan. If the technology seems old, that’s because it is — road maps go back as far as 5th century Rome.

3. USB Car Charger

Don’t let your gadgets die on you. Modern USB connections aren’t just faster than their predecessors — they consume less power, too.

4. Cooler

The cooler, or portable ice chest, was invented in 1951, but things have gotten a little fancier in the 63 years since. Some modern coolers can plug into your car’s electrical outlet and use a powered fan to draw away heat and keep things even chillier.

5. Blankets and Pillows

Because you never know when you’ll need to snuggle up. If you need a little very literal pillow talk, “pillow” comes from the Latin pulvinus, which means “pillow” (they had pillows back then, too).

6. Car Emergency Kit

This is a must, especially when on the open road. It never hurts to pack a comprehensive road assistance kit. Reflective road triangles are so effective, they are used by the Amish as electricity-free tail lights.

7. First Aid Kit

Chances are you’ll require some minor repairs before your car, so be sure to bring a first aid kit. Tweezers, adhesive bandages, and rubber gloves are easy to stow away, and you’ll feel like a genius if a situation arises where you need them.

8. Audio Books

Music is a road trip must, but audio books are a great way to break up the trip and make the time fly. And they’re not as new as you might guess - the first sound ever recorded was technically an audiobook: Thomas Edison’s reading of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

9. Spare Car Keys

You probably threw these in your drawer and forgot about them, but they can come in handy on a road trip. Pocket an extra set or give it to your trip companion; you never know when you’ll need them. While today’s car keys are loaded with electronics, the first metal lock keys were invented in the 1st century.

10. Cash For Tolls

Keep some quarters and spare paper cash so you never have to go digging. The most expensive toll bridge in the world is the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge in Japan. It will set you back about $30 just to cross.

11. Camera

This one is obvious, but don’t leave home without it. How else are you going to document your visit to the world’s largest ball of twine, located in Cawker City, Kansas?

Whatever adventure you’re embarking on, make sure you’ve packed the right gear. To learn more about the new Mercedes-Benz GLA and see what some of your favorite celebrities pack for their own excursions, visit GLApacked.com.

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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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