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9 of the Longest Journeys You Can Take Around the World

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Sometimes, you just want to stretch your journey out as long as possible. So try putting some of the world’s longest journeys on your bucket list. Whether it’s a 17-hour flight or a 740-step escalator, here are nine extra-long rides you can take to make your vacation superlative.

1. THE WORLD’S LONGEST BRIDGE

China’s Danyang–Kunshan Grand Bridge, part of the high-speed railway between Beijing and Shanghai, stretches more than 102 miles long over the Yangtze River Delta. However, only a little over 5 miles is over open water. 

2. THE WORLD’S LONGEST BRIDGE OVER WATER 

If bridges over land seem a little passé, China also hosts the world’s longest bridge over open water. The 26.4-mile-long Jiaozhou Bay bridge took the title from the longtime record holder, Louisiana’s Lake Ponchartrain Causeway, in 2011. But after complaints from Louisiana that the Jiaozhou Bay bridge cheated by using curves to increase the length, Guinness deemed Lake Ponchartrain Causeway the “Longest Bridge over Water (Continuous)."

3. THE WORLD’S LONGEST ESCALATOR

Image Credit: A.Savin via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

While there are several competing claimants to tallest, one of the best is the escalator in Moscow’s almost 30-story deep Park Pobedy station: It has more than 410 feet of moving stairs, with 740 steps. The ride is about three minutes long. In the Western Hemisphere, travelers have to settle for the D.C. Metro’s Wheaton Station escalator, which stretches 230 feet [PDF]. 

4. THE WORLD’S LONGEST NONSTOP FLIGHT

The Australian airline Qantas currently runs a nonstop flight between Sydney and Dallas-Fort Worth. It traverses almost 8570 miles and takes nearly 17 hours on the westbound flight. But Emirates might be poised to take the title away, with a planned nonstop route between Dubai and Panama City that will cover 8580 miles and take as long as 17.5 hours. Service starts in February

5. THE WORLD’S LONGEST SUBWAY SYSTEM

Image Credit: Shanghai Metro

Shanghai’s metro system is just over 340 miles long, the longest city subway network in the world. However, Beijing plans to expand its subway system to about 406 miles by the end of 2016. (At 600 miles, Seoul’s system is considerably longer, but it’s run by multiple operators over a large area.)

6. THE LONGEST POSSIBLE NEW YORK SUBWAY RIDE ON ONE SWIPE

New York City-based public radio station WNYC pegs the longest possible subway ride on one swipe as a 155-mile journey underground between the Bronx and the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. Going from Wakefield-241st Street to Far Rockaway requires 54 transfers, and only the most intense subway lover would ever want to complete it. (For reference, you could travel between the same points with one transfer over the course of two hours, but brevity is not the point here.) 

7. THE WORLD’S TALLEST ELEVATOR RIDE

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One of the biggest issues facing architects trying to build mile-high skyscrapers: current elevator technology can only go so high. The world’s tallest conventional elevator ride right now is inside Dubai’s 2717-foot Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. To get to the tower’s highest floor, you have to take an elevator almost 1655 feet straight up, reaching top speeds of about 22 miles per hour. The building’s emergency elevator is even longer—it travels nearly 1900 feet. 

8. THE WORLD’S LONGEST STRAIGHT ROAD

The longest dead-straight road in the world is Highway 10 in Saudi Arabia, at 162 miles long. In second place is Australia’s Eyre Highway, a 90-mile stretch without a curve in sight. Bring a few particularly gripping podcasts to listen to, because there won’t be much else to pay attention to. 

9. THE WORLD’S LONGEST TRAIN RIDE

According to Guinness, the longest train journey is the 6346 mile semi-regular Moscow, Russia to Pyongyang, North Korea route that takes almost eight days. This route is not currently approved for Westerners to enter North Korea through, though, so most people have to make do with the nearly 5780 mile Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to the far eastern city of Vladivostok.

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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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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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