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25 Foreign Travel Warnings for Visiting the U.S.

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What do foreign tourists worry about when they visit the U.S.? Expensive emergency healthcare, overly sensitive attitudes towards nude sunbathing, and gross tap water, apparently. That's according to travel warnings for potential U.S. tourists from around the world. These government-issued advisories can seem like common sense for Americans, but they also reveal significant cultural differences between the U.S. and other countries.

Most countries warn their citizens of America’s high rates of both firearm possession and crime. Don’t anger Americans, several countries subtly hint, lest they have a gun. Many warn visitors to get travel insurance since, unlike at home, they won’t be covered by a national healthcare system should they get injured. Others provide even more specific advice to avoid certain neighborhoods and businesses. Here are 25 unexpected travel warnings from around the world aimed at those visiting the U.S. (most are approximate translations from the country’s official language):

1.  DON’T GET RIPPED OFF AT AN ORLANDO GAS STATION (UK)

The British government, in its travel advisories, singles out Orlando, Florida for ripping off tourists. “Petrol stations that do not display the price of fuel usually charge considerably more than the national average for a gallon of fuel. They’re often found close to tourist destinations and airports, and notoriously near to Orlando International Airport.” 

2. TAKE CARE OF THE FLOWERS (CHINA

The Chinese government suggests several common rules of etiquette for the U.S., including the following suggestion: “Take good care of flowers and trees, etc.”

3. DO NOT USE HOTMAIL OR GMAIL (AUSTRALIA)

For business travelers, Australia specifically advises against using Gmail or Hotmail for email. “Use discretion when deciding whether to link to free internet services available in public places to connect to your corporate network. Avoid using webmail services such as Hotmail or Gmail for official business.”

4. DO NOT STALK ANYONE (GERMANY)

Germany sees fit to advise its citizens against following and harassing others on American soil: “In the U.S., repeatedly following or repeatedly harassing another person, called ‘stalking,’ is punishable by law.”

5. WATCH OUT FOR GUNS AT NIGHTTIME (CANADA)

Canada, like many other countries, warns its citizens that guns are much more common in the U.S. than in other countries. Its travel warnings advise that “the possession of firearms and the frequency of violent crime are generally more prevalent than in Canada. Within large metropolitan areas, violent crime more commonly occurs in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, particularly from dusk to dawn. Verify official neighborhood crime statistics before planning an outing.”

6. STAY AWAY FROM THE EAST COAST (CHINA

Annapolis, Maryland

The Chinese government says that the West Coast of the U.S. is safer than the East Coast: “Overall, the western United States is safer than the eastern portion, and a city is relatively safe during the day compared to at night.”

7. REALLY, WATCH OUT FOR GUNS (GERMANY)

Seriously, foreign travelers get an earful about America’s love affair with firearms. Here’s what the German government says: “In the USA, it is comparatively easy to obtain possession of guns. If you are the victim of an armed attack, do not try to fight back!”

8. DOORS MIGHT BE CLOSED (RUSSIA

In a warning about crime, the Russian government advises: “In some parts of the country, especially in derelict areas within the major cities, the majority of people prefer to keep their doors closed and to avoid going out alone at night.”

9. DO NOT INSPIRE ROAD RAGE (CHINA

The Chinese government wants its citizens to be polite behind the wheel: “Be courteous to other vehicles while driving; unless it is absolutely necessary, avoid using the horn and avoid other behavior that can easily anger other drivers.”

10. DO NOT TALK TO PROSTITUTES (GERMANY)

Prostitution may be legal elsewhere in the world, but in the U.S., it’s still a no-no. Germany reminds its citizens that “in many U.S. states, it is a criminal offense to engage in sexual activities with prostitutes. Even talking to a prostitute may be punishable by law.”

11. DON'T PEE IN THE STREET (SWITZERLAND

Switzerland is careful to note that the U.S. takes a very hard-line stance against nudity, especially when kids are involved. Also, it cautions, don't pee on things: “The legal system can be very different from one state to another and is often inspired by more rigid moral principles than in Switzerland. For example, bathing topless or without a shirt is forbidden (even for children), as is urinating in the street or taking partially naked pictures of children (even at home).” 

12. DON’T JOKE ABOUT BOMBS (UK)

Reminder: Americans don't have a sense of humor about terrorism. “Don’t make flippant remarks about bombs or terrorism, especially when passing through US airports," the UK government warns. 

13. TRY TO AVOID BEING NAKED (GERMANY

The prudish U.S. is not quite as into nude sunbathing as other cultures. Like Switzerland, Germany advises its citizens that they might find themselves on the wrong side of the law while just trying to enjoy a day at the beach: “Although the laws in individual states criminalizing nudity as ‘indecent exposure’ are rarely prosecuted and punished, it should definitely be noted that nude bathing, and even changing clothes on the beach, can be construed as indecent exposure and therefore may cause problems. Only at a few beaches is nude bathing permitted or even tolerated. On all other beaches, nudity—even for infants—should be avoided. The same applies to ‘topless’ bathing—not only of adult women, but also of little girls.”

Germany also warns of America’s sometimes odd attitudes toward breastfeeding: “In almost all states, breastfeeding babies in public is now considered an exception to ‘indecent exposure’ criminal provisions,  but would be best treated like any other nudity, at least in restaurants and bars, or in less ‘liberal’ regions.”

14. FEEL FREE TO SHACK UP (AUSTRIA)

Don’t be afraid to get a single hotel room with your special friend, Austria advises: “The rights of homosexual couples are liberal. Also, the cohabitation of unmarried couples (in hotels, etc.) can take place without any problems.” Finally, a positive advisory! 

15. DON’T CUT IN LINE (CHINA

Queuing etiquette is not universal. The Chinese government sees fit to warn its citizens of the U.S.’s obsession with line order: “In the United States, when many people are lining up for services at some distance away from the window, wait your turn in line. Failing to observe this convention could lead to unnecessary disputes.”

16. DON’T EXPECT AIR TRAVEL TO BE SAFE (CANADA)

The Canadian government is not impressed by U.S. air safety policies. “Do not expect safety standards to be the same as in Canada,” it warns. Maybe Canadians just aren’t used to having to take off their shoes? 

17. VACCINES DON’T CAUSE AUTISM (MEXICO)

The Mexican government recommends getting vaccinated for measles and other preventable diseases before visiting the states. Then, it forcefully underlines the safety of vaccination (loosely translated): “There is [absolutely] no link between the MMR vaccine and autism.”

18. THE TAP WATER TASTES GROSS (AUSTRIA

Austrians are not into the taste of American tap water: “Tap water—while not very tasty (it’s chlorinated)—is usually considered safe to drink.” 

19. THE AMERICAN DREAM ISN’T REAL (RUSSIA

Russia’s travel advisories get snarky, advising Russians of the U.S.’s hypocrisy over economic inequality: “The ‘American dream’ originates from here, as does another model—the special democratic character of American society with its ‘incredible freedom.’ However, due to the presence of the ‘young aristocracy’—already formed in the 20th century—and the specific model of American society, inequalities in socio-economic status between rich and poor are no lesser than in any other country in the world.” 

20. EXPECT HARASSMENT IN ARIZONA (MEXICO) 

After Arizona passed SB 1070, the Mexican government issued a travel warning for its citizens about traveling, living, or studying in the state. It warned that under the law (which was designed to target undocumented Mexican immigrants), foreigners without the right documentation can be detained. Furthermore, “all Mexican citizens could be bothered or questioned without motive at any moment.”

21. YOU MIGHT GET EXTRADITED (RUSSIA

Extradition is such a hot-button issue in U.S.-Russia relations that the Russian government warns its citizens not to visit the U.S. or any other country it doesn’t have an extradition treaty with, lest they be arrested and handed over to a foreign government, as in the case of Russian cyberhacker Vladimir Drinkman. The Russian government accuses the U.S. of “hunting” for its citizens: 

Despite our appeals for Washington to establish normal cooperation between law enforcement agencies on the basis of bilateral agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters (from 1999), the U.S. authorities continue the unacceptable practice of ‘hunting’ for Russians all over the world, ignoring international law and twisting the arms of other countries. The number of such cases has exceeded a dozen. The latest examples include Spain handing over Dmitry Belorossova and Vadim Polyakov to the Americans, and the extradition of Vladimir Drinkman to the United States from the Netherlands.”

22. WATCH OUT FOR EXPENSIVE DOCTOR VISITS (AUSTRALIA)

Compared to many other industrialized nations, the United States has an exorbitantly expensive medical system. So when foreign travelers have an accident, the price tag of a hospital visit can be quite a shock. Australia’s government, like many others, strongly recommends preparing with a comprehensive traveler’s insurance plan: “Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs...A visit to a doctor in the United States for even minor complaints can cost several hundred dollars, excluding laboratory tests or medication costs.” 

23. DON’T LEAVE TRASH IN YOUR CAR (CANADA)

An article from Canada’s CBC News warns travelers of the legality of civil asset forfeiture—a widespread practice where U.S. police officers confiscate cash during traffic stops—advising that, “if you’re on an American roadway with a full wallet, in the eyes of thousands of cash-hungry cops you’re a rolling ATM.” The correspondent has several tips for Canadians who get pulled over on American roads, including “don’t leave litter on the vehicle floor, especially energy drink cans,” and “try not to wear expensive designer clothes.”

24. TAXI DRIVERS KNOW NOTHING (RUSSIA

The Russian government is not impressed with U.S. taxi drivers: “Taking a taxi is not always convenient, as most American taxi drivers are recent immigrants who speak English poorly. It often turns out that the tourist knows the city better than the taxi driver.”

25. PAY YOUR TRAFFIC TICKETS (GERMANY)

Germany urges people to pay their fines for traffic violations: “If you have received a citation (‘Ticket’) for parking, speeding, or something similar: Please pay it!” It begs the question—are traffic tickets optional in Germany?

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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