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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Florists

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Florists know all about caring for and arranging a variety of flowers, but they do more than put pretty flowers into a nice vase. After talking to a few, we got the dirt on the job, including how they find the best blooms, which household fruits are the enemy of long-lasting bouquets, and why the holidays make their feet ache.

1. THEY’RE (VERY) EARLY RISERS.

Being a florist means getting to work early, as the team at Miami Gardens Florist tells mental_floss: “You have to be in by 7 a.m. so that the first batch of flowers is ready for delivery by 9 a.m., when most businesses start to open.” Florists use those early morning hours to cut and process flowers, organize orders that came in overnight, and prioritize which arrangements to work on first. And when they buy flowers at wholesale flower markets, some florists wake up even earlier—around 3 or 4 a.m.—to find the best flowers at the market before they sell out.

2. FINDING THE RIGHT FLOWERS CAN BE INCREDIBLY TIME-CONSUMING.

To assemble complex floral arrangements and mixed bouquets, florists typically need to search for flowers and plants from a variety of sources. Depending on their clients’ wishes and what flowers are in season, florists may purchase directly from local farms, wholesalers, or flower auctions. Some florists even grow their own flowers or import them from countries such as Holland or Colombia.

3. FLOWERS ARE HEAVIER THAN THEY LOOK.

“Being a florist is a lot more labor-intensive than most would assume,” says Lauren Ghani, the owner of Nu Leaf Design, a floral design shop in Los Angeles. “We have to pick up and transport all the flowers, clean and process them (which can take hours of being on your feet!), decide on a design, and then clean up the extensive amount of leaves and debris,” Ghani explains. Florists must also have strong arm and leg muscles to unpack large shipments of plants, lift heavy buckets of water, and arrange large branches and other foliage for display.

4. TIMING IS EVERYTHING.

Because flowers only last so long before they wilt and die, florists are in a perpetual race against the clock. They must properly time purchases and deliveries, making sure that buds have bloomed by the time they arrive at a client’s door. To speed up or slow down the blooming process, florists use a variety of tricks. They may condition flowers (get them ready for display) by cutting or splitting the stems (trimming them at a 45-degree angle increases the surface area for water absorption) or dunking the blooms in cold water. Storing the blooms away from direct sunlight is also key. To ensure that flowers for weddings look fresh and open, Ghani keeps them in a refrigerated environment and makes the centerpieces the day before the event.

5. HOLIDAYS ARE HARD ON THEIR FEET.

Because flowers are perishable, florists can’t get too much of a head start on making arrangements for high-volume days such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. “During our high seasons, every flower shop becomes a factory where all we're doing is trying to get as many arrangements out as possible,” the Miami Gardens Florist team explains. Although most florists find working with flowers to be generally relaxing, holidays require them to stand on their feet for eight to 12 hours per day, often for several days in a row.

6. ALLERGY MEDS ARE THEIR SECRET WEAPON.

If flowers are your life’s work, daily sneezing fits and a constantly itchy nose aren’t ideal. While most florists don’t have a problem, some, unfortunately, are allergic to pollen and plants. How do they cope? Some take daily allergy meds, get allergy shots from their doctor, or try to avoid working with especially problematic flowers. For most, the benefits of the job outweigh the sneezing.

7. THEY WISH CUSTOMERS WOULD TAKE BETTER CARE OF CUT FLOWERS.

If you lament that your bouquets only last a few days, educate yourself about how to properly care for flowers. Florist Brad Weinstein told mental_floss that water is key to helping flowers last longer. “Remember that the more flowers in the arrangement, the need for water will increase,” he said.

To give your cut flowers a long life, check the water level daily, use the packet of powdered flower food that came with your bouquet, and make sure you put your flowers in a clean vase. And don’t forget to keep your flowers away from direct sunlight, heat, and fruit—the ethylene gas that apples and pears emit can cause your flowers to quickly wilt.

8. SUMMER IS THE BEST TIME TO BUY FROM THEM.

Although people might primarily associate buying flowers with Valentine’s Day, February isn’t the ideal time to shop for blooms. The best time to order from a florist is during the summer months. According to the Miami Gardens Florist team: “They’ll have fresher flowers, they’ll be able to take their time to make something beautiful, and you’re more likely to get a discount.” Good news for anyone with a summer birthday.

9. THEY MAY USE FLOWERS IN THE KITCHEN.

Besides looking pretty in a vase, flowers can be used in your kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. Florists may use flowers (such as chamomile or hibiscus) to make flower tea, add dried flowers to oil to make soap, or use pressed flowers to decorate homemade candles. Some florists who enjoy cooking also substitute tulips for onions in certain recipes, such as stews and pastas, and garnish dishes with chopped (edible, pesticide-free) petals.

10. THE MARKUP THEY CHARGE IS WORTH IT.

Depending on where you live, you may be able to buy discounted flowers at a wholesale flower market. If you buy flowers from a florist, though, the flowers may be marked up 2.5 to 3.5 times what they really cost. Florists say that markup is there for good reason. “In all honesty, the prices are justified. You’re receiving a work of art that takes a lot of hard work and effort,” the Miami Gardens Florist team says. Besides labor and time, the price you pay a florist may also include ribbons and other accessories, a vase, and delivery.

11. THEY DEAL WITH MORE THAN JUST FLOWERS.

Most florists don’t focus solely on making flower arrangements. They also take orders over the phone, answer customer questions, and make sales. If a florist owns their own shop, they must also hire employees, fill out tax paperwork, and manage the store's finances. Some florists also branch out (pun intended) by teaching flower-crafting classes, working with wedding planners or interior designers, and writing articles or books about flower care and arrangement.

12. MARTHA STEWART IS A POLARIZING FIGURE.

Ron Mulray, who owns the Philadelphia Flower Co., told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Martha Stewart is a polarizing figure in the flower world. In the 1990s, Stewart began educating people about flowers, teaching her audience how to design their own beautiful floral arrangements. According to Mulray, floral designers took firm pro- or anti-Stewart positions, with some florists praising her for promoting flowers as an art form and others criticizing her for revealing florists’ trade secrets to the masses.

But whether they love her or hate her, florists admit that Stewart exposed people to the simple joy of flowers. “We could never sell 36 open roses in a hand-tied bouquet before Martha. That was really what she did,” Mulray says.

13. THEY GET TO PARTAKE IN YOUR EMOTIONAL MILESTONES.

Whether they arrange and deliver flowers for weddings, funerals, births, anniversaries, or proms, florists often work with clients who are emotional about recent (or imminent) life changes. And florists aren't immune to the impact—conscious or subconscious—of the heightened emotions surrounding weddings and funerals. One florist writes about how creating floral arrangements for a funeral sparked a recurring dream: “In the dream, I woke up the woman that died to ask her if she liked the flowers. Her answer was no. She informed me that she had always hated flowers … I remember feeling silly and spooked at the same time.”

14. MOTHER NATURE DELIGHTS THEM.

Many florists are drawn to their profession because they simply love flowers. “Flowers are nature’s art. They’re beautiful, strange, and each one is so different,” the Miami Gardens Florist team says. And working with flowers is an artistic outlet that lets florists express their creativity, working with a variety of colors, heights, textures, and scents. “I love working with flowers because with every season comes a different palette of colors as well as types of flowers …The creativity associated with flowers is part of what keeps me intrigued and excited about my work!” Ghani says.

All photos via iStock.

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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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