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The 10 Best Rest Stops in the U.S.

Nothing ruins a road trip like dingy rest stop that makes everyone itch for a shower. Inversely, could a great rest stop save a road trip? These are 10 of the best rest stops and truck stops that can be found in the U.S.

1. The Iowa 80 Truck Stop

The world’s largest truck stop can be found off of I-80, on exit 284 in Walcott, Iowa. This stop has pretty much anything a road tripper might need. In addition to plenty of fast food restaurants, there’s a movie theatre, laundromat, showers, a trucking museum, and church services on Sundays. The 100,000 square foot stop currently sees around 5,000 people per day.

2. South of the Border

This stop is located off of I-95 in Dillon, South Carolina. Here, you can find six different restaurants, ranging from casual dining to a steakhouse. The Border, as it’s known for short, also has the largest indoor reptile exhibit in the United States, which is open every day. Plus, there’s Pedroland, an amusement park with a ferris wheel, carousel, bumper cards, mini golf, and an arcade. There’s also an inn and a campground if you need to stay the night.

3. Buc-ee’s

Jennifer Woodard Maderazo, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

This chain is a Texas staple, with twenty-two locations in the state. They feature convenience stores with huge restrooms, tons of gas pumps, and delis. The New Braunfels location won Cintas’ 2012 America’s Best Restroom Award. The store is 68,000 square feet with 80 soda fountains and conveniently contains a total of 83 bathroom stalls.

4. Little America

At first glance, Little America (at Exit 198 off of I-40 in Flagstaff, Arizona) doesn’t even look like a rest stop. It’s a gorgeous 500-acre hotel with a golf course, swimming pool, fitness center, and business center. There’s also a travel center on the property with a gas station, and the convenience store is open 24/7, fully stocked with books, groceries, CDs, DVDs, and souvenirs. Plus, there’s the Little America Grill, which serves everything from rotisserie chicken to breakfast foods to 50 cent ice cream cones. It’s open until at least 10:30 every day.

5. R-Place Restaurant

If you’re hungry while passing Morris, Illinois on I-80, this is the place to stop. R-Place is a 24/7 eatery that serves baked goods and American cuisine. It also has its own food challenge! The restaurant serves a 2-pound hamburger—half of which is meat and the other half is cheese, bun, and two toppings of your choice. To win, you must eat the entire thing within one hour without leaving the table. R-Place's food is so popular, they even cater.

6. Sapp Bros

poulsbo, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

While travelling on I-80, you might come across a Sapp Bros. Travel Center. There are sixteen locations between Salt Lake City, Utah and Clearfield, Pennsylvania. In addition to being a rest stop, the company also provides 24-hour roadside service. Six Sapp Bros. locations have their most popular restaurant, Apple Barrel, which serves reasonably priced American cuisine.

7. Tamarack Tourist Information Center

Wikimedia Commons // Fair Use

Tamarack is located on Exit 45 off of I-77 and I-64 in Beckley, West Virginia. It has a standard food court and provides tourist information, but it also contains a fine arts gallery, a theater with live performances, a conference center, and stores selling local products. Half a million people stop at the center every year.

8. Jubitz Truck Stop and Travel Center

This stop, which FOX Travel Channel named the “World’s Classiest Truck Stop,” can be found off of I-5 in Portland, Oregon. The Portlander Inn is on the property with 100 rooms for those who are too tired to keep driving. For quicker visits, there’s a restaurant, convenience store, and 80-seat movie theater. Jubitz also has the Ponderosa Lounge with pool tables, TVs, dance lessons, video poker, and live music on weekends.

9. Bear Lake Rest Area and Overlook

According to The Travel Channel, this is the rest stop with the best view in the U.S. It is located off of Route 89 in Bear Lake, Utah, and it provides a great spot to check out Bear Lake and its surrounding mountains. Plus, there’s a hiking trail for those who want to see a little more. (Of course, there's also parking and bathrooms.)

10. Trail’s Travel Center

This center is off of I-35 in Albert Lea, Minnesota. In addition to a couple of fast food restaurants, there is a restaurant and a tavern with the largest whiskey selection in southern Minnesota. Truck drivers who stop there can find a movie theater, wi-fi, and church services on Sundays.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
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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