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Road Trip! 6 Incredible Cross-Country Journeys

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There's nothing quite like a road trip. You pack your bag, empty the change jar for gas money, grab a map (or not), and hit the highway, seeking adventure around every turn. And with summer upon us, there's no better time to strike out on your own to discover what life has to offer. If you need a little inspiration before you go, here are the stories of people who traveled across America, from sea to shining sea.

1. Escaping at 195 mph

According to his story on Jalopnik.com, when Richard Jordan's fiancée left him, he wanted to run away. So, Jordan did what any gear head would do—he sold everything he owned and bought a brand new sports car. But he didn't buy just any sports car. Jordan bought a $180,000 black Lamborghini Gallardo, featuring a 512 horse-power V10 with a top speed of 195 mph. With that kind of car, you can escape just about anything, including a broken heart.


Jordan roamed through the lower 48 states for over a year, with no particular place to go. He stayed in motels as he crisscrossed the nation three times. While he was out finding himself, the police found him, too—he was hit with 53 speeding tickets. But his driving record wasn't the only thing that took some dings by the time he finally returned to his hometown of Dallas.

While most used Lamborghinis have about 10,000 miles on the engine, Jordan's has 91,807 miles. And because the vehicle didn't receive all of the recommended maintenance a high-end sports car needs, it doesn't run anymore, either, leaving him with a really nice-looking paperweight. But to Jordan, that was a small price to pay for the experience.

2. Rolling Across America

At the age of 53, David Whittaker, a wheelchair-bound ex-Marine, was homeless and suffering from Congestive Heart Failure. With a poor prognosis, Whittaker made it his mission to do something positive with whatever time he had left. So, in May 2009, he set out to drive his motorized wheelchair from Key West (the southernmost point in the lower 48 United States) to Blaine, Washington (the northernmost point in the lower 48), spreading the word about homeless veterans everywhere he went. 


Moving at an average speed of less than 5 mph, his trip was slow-going. He was scheduled to be in Blaine by October, but mechanical setbacks, like 17 flat tires in Florida alone, significantly delayed his trip.  Then in November 2009, Whittaker was riding along the sidewalk in Long Beach, California, when a driver ran a stop sign and plowed into him, totaling his wheelchair and putting him in the hospital.  This unfortunate series of events meant he had to stop short of his final destination. But considering he rode from Florida to California in a wheelchair, while helping fellow veterans in need, it seems fair to say Whittaker's trip was a success.

3. The $10,000 Technicality

The year was 1896 and the Estbys—Helga, her husband Ole, and their eight children—were about to have their Spokane, Washington, house reclaimed by the bank. Desperate to save the family farm, Helga and her 19-year old daughter, Clara, set off in the hopes of winning a much-publicized wager from a now-unknown New York City fat cat. The wealthy bettor was willing to pay $10,000 to the first woman brave enough to walk across the country without a male companion.


The pair left Spokane on May 5, carrying little more than a compass, a curling iron, some red pepper spray, a revolver, and $5 between them. During their journey, to raise money to feed themselves and replace their worn out clothes, the women did odd jobs before moving on again. In this manner, they arrived in The Big Apple on December 3, 1896. However, the bettor refused to pay the $10,000 reward, claiming the rules stipulated that any takers had to arrive before December 1.

With no money to their names, Helga and Clara were stuck in New York City for the winter, but were able to return to Spokane in the spring of 1897. When they arrived home, the farm had been foreclosed and their family refused to speak to them, believing that the pair had run off to live in New York City.

4. One Wheel, Fifty States

To raise money for an Inuit tribe in Alaska, Lars Clausen jumped on his unicycle in April 2002 with a plan to ride across the United States. As part of his training, he kicked off his journey by cycling through Alaska, before then flying to Washington state to begin the long haul. For the next four months, Clausen rode his 36" unicycle for 50 to 60 miles every day. However, at one point in June, he broke a Guinness Record by riding 202.5 miles in only 24 hours. With this pace, he reached Ellis Island in August, having traveled nearly 5,000 miles.


But Clausen wasn't finished yet. Along the road, he decided to go ahead and break another Guinness Record by becoming the only person to travel through all 50 states on a unicycle. So he turned around and rode another 5,000 miles on a different route, back to Washington, helping him hit all 48 lower states on his round-trip voyage. With Alaska in the bag, and just a quick flight to conquer Hawaii, Clausen rode one wheel into the history books. His final tally: 50 states, 9,136 miles, and approximately 5,118,000 pedals, in only 205 days.

5. A Very Quick Getaway

Even if you don't have a lot of vacation time to spare, that doesn't mean it's impossible to go on a cross-country road trip this summer. Legally it might be difficult, but that didn't deter the first official "Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining Sea Memorial Trophy" race, also known as "The Cannonball Run," that took place in 1971. Leaving from the Red Ball Parking Garage in Manhattan, eight teams of drivers made their way across the country by whatever route they chose in whatever type of vehicle they wanted, all in a race to reach the Portofino Inn in Redondo Beach, California, in as little time as possible.

Because they were shooting for the best time, it should come as no surprise that four of the eight teams received a total of 12 speeding tickets, with one cited for going 135 mph in a 70 mph zone. But speed wasn't the only factor to consider, because the more you had to stop for gas, the less time you had on the road. To combat this, one van had a specially designed refueling system that could feed the fuel tank from one of five 55-gallon drums of gasoline sitting in the back of the van, all while the vehicle was cruising down the highway.

Dan Gurney and Brock Yates won the first official Cannonball Run in their Ferrari Daytona, covering the full 2,863 miles in 35 hours and 54 minutes at an average speed of 80 mph. That's an average speed, mind you, as Gurney was famously quoted as saying, "At no time did we exceed 175 mph."

6. Just Walkin'

Matt Green is walking. Just walking. He started walking at Rockaway Beach, New York, in late-March and will eventually stop walking in Rockaway Beach, Oregon. He pushes everything he needs with him on a modified baby stroller, including camping gear, clothes, and a cell phone, which he uses to update his blog, imjustwalkin.com, on a daily basis. But why is he walking, you ask? Green's not walking to save the whales or to find a cure for cancer. He's simply doing it for the adventure and the experience of a lifetime.


Because he's just walking, Green travels a reasonable 15 miles every day and even takes the occasional day off to rest. When he gets tired at night, he camps out in the woods, or asks a farmer if he can put up his tent in the front yard. He doesn't carry a lot of food, instead preferring to buy from local vendors whenever he gets hungry. However, he's also received a lot of free meals from strangers who welcome him into their homes or pick up the tab at the local diner. Occasionally they'll even offer him a comfy bed to sleep in that night.

Someday, probably in nine months or so, Green will reach Oregon. But for him, what's important is the journey. Really, though, that's what any great road trip should be all about.
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We know you've had some amazing adventures out on the open road. Tell us all the exciting details in the comments below.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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