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Here’s Why Confusing Diesel With Gas at the Pump Is a Problem

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It can happen to anyone. Maybe you were distracted by a text message or phone call or someone else pulling up at the pump. You grabbed the wrong handle, and now your gas tank is loaded with diesel fuel—a simple mistake that can cost you big-time.

The issue is combustion. Gasoline-powered cars have engines which run on a combination of liquid fuel and ordinary air, which are mixed together inside the vehicle and make their way to a cylinder block, where the fuel-air mix is compressed by pistons. A spark is used to ignite the substance in a small, contained explosion, and the gas produced as a result pushes back against the pistons, forcing them down and generating the power necessary to keep the car running as it goes from place to place. But these engines can't combust diesel, for one key reason.

Unlike gasoline, diesel doesn’t readily mix with air unless certain conditions are met. While gasoline can evaporate at room temperature, diesel must be exposed to intense heat in order to follow suit. Diesel engines work by spraying the fuel into a cylinder that’s already filled with high-temperature compressed air, which makes the diesel itself combust spontaneously—no spark required. Gasoline engines can’t provide diesel with the temperatures it needs to combust, and, unable to evaporate sufficiently, diesel won’t ignite when the spark is released.

To those who drive gas-powered vehicles, diesel is useless. Ideally, you realized your mistake at the gas station before the car was even started—but if not, as soon as the last drops of gasoline in the car, truck, or motorcycle’s system are gone, the vehicle will shut down, leaving you stranded. And because gas-powered rides aren’t able to process the fuel, the diesel has to be removed manually—a process that isn't cheap.

First, you'll need to call a tow truck; then it’s time to enlist a skilled car mechanic. Depending on how much of the liquid you’ve poured into the tank, there’s a good to fair chance that some of it made its way into the car’s fuel line. Your mechanic will probably have no choice but to drain the entire fuel system, which can set you back $500 to $1000.

Thankfully, gas stations try to stop their customers from making this mistake in the first place. Often, the nozzles on diesel pumps are designed to be too wide to slot into most gas tanks. Also, at many locales, these pumps are colored bright green, yellow, or orange, which makes them more conspicuous and serves as a visual reminder that they are not, in fact, gasoline dispensers. However, there isn’t a universal chromatic system. A few companies—like BP—use green-tipped pumps on their gas dispensers. So before you use any pump at any gas station, do yourself a favor and read the label.

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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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