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15 Things to Keep in Your Car at All Times

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In 2015, AAA rescued 32 million stranded drivers—a record amount. The most common problems, AAA Northeast Manager of Media Relations Robert Sinclair Jr. tells mental_floss, were flat tires, dead batteries, and people locking themselves out of their vehicles. In the event that you pop a tire or run out of gas, don’t be caught unprepared. Sinclair shares 15 items to keep in your car at all times in case of emergency.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

1. CELL PHONE AND CHARGER; $10

“Believe it or not, I think a cell phone charger and cell phone are probably the most valuable devices,” Sinclair says. Most people have never had to change a tire and can’t tell an alternator from a carburetor. So having the ability to call for help should be a top priority.

Sinclair also recommends making someone at your destination aware of your planned route and estimated time of arrival before you hit the road on longer trips. “Some areas can be spotty” in terms of cell reception, Sinclair says. But if someone knows when to expect you, “when you don’t show up, they can send someone out to look for you.”

Find it: Amazon

2. FIRST AID KIT; $24

You should keep a first aid kit, complete with vinyl gloves, bandages, scissors, and antiseptic, in your glove compartment. AAA sells a car-friendly kit that also includes a whistle.

Find it: Amazon

3. JUMPER CABLES; $26

Leave your headlights on while you were out to dinner and return to your car to find the battery dead? Sounds like you’ll need a jump. Follow your car manual’s instructions to safely return power to your vehicle.

Find it: Amazon

4. JACK; $25

Keep a car jack in the trunk in case of flats—and learn how to use it! Practice jacking up the vehicle and replacing the tire at home. Sinclair also recommends keeping a flat board (a sturdy piece of 3/4-inch-thick plywood) in the car to place under the jack. “Oftentimes, when you pull over to the side of the road, you’re on soft ground, and particularly if it has rained, the jack will just sink into the soft ground,” he says. “Additionally, if the jack isn’t secure, the vehicle can slip off the jack. About 70 people are killed every year when a vehicle falls off a jack.”

Find it: Amazon

5. LUG WRENCH; $11

“A lug wrench is the wrench that you use to remove the lug nuts that hold the wheel on,” Sinclair says. “Generally, the one that [the dealer] provides with the vehicle is a little rinky-dink thing—it’s generally a tool that doesn’t give you sufficient leverage.” Sinclair recommends purchasing an X-shaped wrench, which will give you enough leverage to budge those stubborn, factory-installed lug nuts.

Find it: Amazon

6. WHEEL CHOCKS; $20

To help prevent your car from rolling off the jack, place chocks (those triangle-shaped stoppers) under the wheels. “Those are designed to keep the vehicle from moving,” Sinclair says.

Find it: Amazon

7. SPARE TIRE

Your new car must have a spare tire in the trunk or attached to the underside of the vehicle, right? Wrong. Sinclair explains that, because of ever increasing mileage requirements, many dealers are nixing the spare. “One of the easiest ways to meet [the requirements] is to lessen the weight of the vehicle. The lighter it is, the better fuel economy it’s going to get. Spare tires, depending on the model, of the vehicle, can weigh 40, 50, 60, 70 pounds, and so they’re leaving them out when you buy a new car.”

Find it: Check with your car manufacturer or local automotive service center to find the correct spare for your car.

8. TIRE PRESSURE GAUGE; $15

Check your tire pressure on a monthly basis, not only during an emergency. Properly maintained tires will not only keep you safe on the road, but will improve your gas mileage. Check your car’s owner manual to find the proper pressure for your vehicle.

Find it: Amazon

9. NON-PERISHABLE FOOD ITEMS; $12

If there’s anything worse than waiting for a tow, it’s waiting while hungry, so keep snacks on hand. “Like energy bars, a bag of Craisins, that kind of thing,” Sinclair says. In the unlikely event that you are stranded for a significant amount of time, that trail mix could be a lifesaver.

Find it: Amazon

10. WINDOW PUNCH AND SEATBELT CUTTER; $17

In the event of water immersion, Sinclair says you need to have a a window punch close at-hand. “If the vehicle goes underwater, generally, you have some time to get yourself together,” he says. “And what that window punch is, it’s a small handle, with a round metal piece that’s shaped in a point, and it concentrates the energy so you can try and break the window.” Sinclair cautions, however, that side glass is incredibly strong and can be difficult to break. “So get the biggest, heaviest, most powerful one that you can.”

Most window punches come equipped with a seatbelt cutter as well. “Sometimes, going into the water as a result of a crash, the seatbelt mechanism might not release on its own, and you need to cut it,” Sinclair says.

Find it: Amazon

11. FIRE EXTINGUISHER; $20

Sinclair recommends purchasing a small fire extinguisher that will work on flammable fluids such as gasoline and oil as well as electrical fires. “Now the key is where that thing is going to be located, because people will keep it in the trunk, but they might not be able to get to the trunk,” Sinclair says. He recommends Velcroing the extinguisher to the car’s console or inside of the front door for quick accessibility.

Find it: Amazon

12. DUCT TAPE; $11

Many small on-the-road repairs can be taken care of on the spot if you have a little know-how and the right tools. “I remember, when I was in my youth, I had an old car, and saw steam coming from under the hood,” Sinclair says. He pulled over and saw that a hose was leaking. “So, I let the vehicle cool off, and when it did, I went and got my electrical tape and duct tape and wrapped the hole. I used my gallon of antifreeze that I carry and topped off the radiator and went on about my business. I got a new hose the next day. A quick, little, easy repair and I was back on the road in about a half hour.”

Find it: Amazon

13. GALLON OF ANTIFREEZE; $14

Antifreeze raises the boiling point of water in order to prevent your car’s cooling system from freezing and your engine from overheating. Just like Sinclair did with his quick repair, be sure to let your car fully cool before adding new antifreeze to the radiator. Check your car’s owner manual or speak to a mechanic to find the correct type of antifreeze for your vehicle.

Find it: Amazon

14. TOOL KIT; $14

A basic tool kit containing a screwdriver, hammer, wrench, and pliers should do the trick in a pinch.

Find it: Amazon

15. WINTER READINESS KIT (INCLUDING SHOVEL, BLANKET, AND ICE SCRAPER); $38

Should you be stranded due to a blizzard or other inclement weather, you need to be prepared for the elements. Keep a small shovel, winter gloves, blanket, ice scraper, and abrasive material (such as sand or salt) in your trunk. You can often buy ready-made kits that contain these materials.

Find it: Amazon

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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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