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6 Illicit Lemonade Stands Towns Had to Shut Down

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Lemonade stand image via Shutterstock

For generations, entrepreneurial kids have set up card tables in front yards to sell ice cold drinks to passers-by. But sometimes the law catches up with these renegade youngsters.

1. 1983 – Belleair, Florida

Like a lot of kids, six-year old Ali Thorn wanted to make some money. She didn’t have dreams of fancy cars, yachts, or a place in the Hamptons, though; she just wanted enough to buy stickers. However, her tiny dreams came crashing down when police received an anonymous tip that her crude cardboard sign in the front yard did not comply with the city’s ordinances. Officer Ed Warren reluctantly delivered the news to Ali and her mom that the lemonade stand would have to come down.

But the Thorns didn’t just roll over. They went to the next Belleair Town Commission meeting to complain and, a few days later, the commission decided that the sign ordinance wasn’t designed to prevent kids from setting up their own front yard businesses. They also decided that anonymous complaints about ordinance violations would no longer be allowed.

So, eleven days after it was shut down, Ali’s shop opened again. The first person in line to buy a cup of her homemade lemonade was Officer Warren. To show there were no hard feelings, Ali let him have the drink for free.

2. 1988 – Watchung, New Jersey

In the summer of 1988, Max’s Soda Stand, run by 9-year old Max Schilling, was cited by Watchung officials for zoning violations after they said his 7’ tall stand was considered a permanent structure and that it sat too close to the street. With daily sales of about $12.50, Max couldn’t afford the $500 per day fine he’d receive if he stayed in business, so he reluctantly closed up shop.

In response to the city’s citation, Max’s dad jumped into action. The first thing he did was call the local newspaper, which was thrilled to run a juicy story about city hall “squeezing” a kid’s lemonade stand. He also paid the $250 fee to apply for a zoning variance, and then contacted zoning lawyer Daniel Bernstein, who offered to work the case pro bono. According to a contemporary New York Times story, at the variance hearing, Bernstein argued that the stand should be considered an accessory, rather than a separate structure, and was prepared to bring in engineers and architects to testify if necessary.

Two weeks after the hearing, the city allowed Max to reopen with a few conditions, but he ended up losing $89 that summer.

3. 1993 – Charleston, South Carolina

12-year-old Sarah Knott and 13-year-old Margaret Johnson had their stand shut down by Charleston officers because they didn’t have a peddler’s license. However, after a public outcry, City Hall and Police Major Charles Wiley offered the girls a heartfelt apology. Wiley even did one better – he asked the girls to set up shop outside the police station instead.

4. 2010 – Portland, Oregon

On the last Thursday of every month, Alberta Street in Portland comes alive for a loosely organized, semi-impromptu art festival where artists, musicians, and food carts pack the block and celebrate the city’s creative vibe. It was at one of these street fairs in July 2010 that 7-year-old Julie Murphy and her mom set up a lemonade stand, where they were selling drinks for 50 cents each.

However, about 20 minutes after opening for business, a county health inspector asked to see her temporary restaurant permit, a license that carries a $120 fee that little Julie had obviously not obtained. Without the permit, Julie and her mom had to stop selling lemonade or face a $500 fine. Owners at surrounding booths suggested Julie write “Free” on the sign and put out a tip jar, but that wasn’t enough for the inspectors. An argument ensued between the other booths and the inspectors, and Julie and her mom went home in tears.

After an online campaign from Oregonians, the national media picked up on the story and Julie suddenly became a pint-sized symbol of the plight of the small business owner. But the situation fizzled after Jeff Cogen, the Multnomah County chairman, called Julie and Maria to apologize. He admitted the health inspectors were doing their jobs, but might have overstepped their bounds, saying, “a 7-year-old selling lemonade isn’t the same as a grown-up selling burritos out of a cart.”

5. 2011 – Midway, Georgia

Image credit: Jekyll Island

It’s notoriously hot in Georgia during the summer, so Kasity Dixon, 14, Tiffany Cassin, 12, and Skylar Roberts, 10, decided to open a lemonade stand in Midway to make enough money for the trio to visit the Summer Waves Water Park on nearby Jekyll Island. They had been open for about a day and business was good, including a couple of cups purchased by two local police officers. Later, a different police officer came by and told the girls they had to close the stand because they didn’t have a business license, a peddler’s permit, or a food permit, all of which would have cost them $50 a day to obtain for temporary use or $180 for the year. Despite national media attention and complaints from residents, the city wouldn't budge.

The City of Midway might not have been so kind to the girls, but luckily Steve Sharpe, the general manager of Summer Waves, had a bigger heart. After he heard about the girls, now dubbed “The Midway Lemonade Girls,” Sharpe not only invited them to spend a day at the park free of charge, but he also gave them the opportunity to sell lemonade for two hours in a stand that his staff built especially for them. The girls gave a portion of their proceeds to a local animal shelter and had a great time on the water slides.

6. 2011 – Appleton, Wisconsin

Every year, the city of Appleton hosts the Old Car Show, which draws in thousands of visitors. For the past seven years, the young Coenen sisters had been running a lemonade and cookie stand to serve people as they made their way to the show. That is until the city passed an ordinance the month before that banned vendors selling food and drink within a two-block radius of the event. The ordinance was put in place to protect the non-profit groups running concessions at the event itself, but it also meant the Coenens would have to close up shop. In order to deplete their stock, the girls put a sign out front that read, “The City Shut Us Down” and started giving away food and drinks with a tip jar accepting donations.

Neighbors, upset by the ban, complained to city hall, where officials started looking for a workaround to the situation. However, they soon realized the workaround was already there in the code itself. The ordinance only banned licensed vendors from selling near the event, but you don’t need a license to run a lemonade stand in Wisconsin. The police apologized to the family and the officers have received additional training on how to properly enforce the code from now on.

Cookies, Too!

2011 – Savannah, Georgia

It's not just lemonade stands that are under fire. For decades, the Girl Scouts of Savannah have sold the organization's cookies on the sidewalk in front of the home of Juliette Gordon Low, who founded the Girl Scouts in 1912. But peddling on a public sidewalk in Savannah is a violation of a city ordinance, and the city was forced to stop the sales after they received an anonymous complaint. The action sparked interest from around the world, with reporters calling city hall from as far away as Australia and New Zealand to interview city employees.

Over the next few days, zoning officials and residents searched for a loophole that would allow the girls to continue the long-standing tradition, but it wasn't looking good. Then, Michael Gaster, a former candidate for state legislator, found the loophole – Section 6-1615 – which endowed the city manager with the power to give written permission to allow sidewalk sales. City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney agreed, as long as the girls applied for a business tax certificate and did their best to keep the sidewalk clear. With the proper paperwork filed, the girls were back in business a few days later.

2011 – Hazelwood, Missouri

In March 2011, Caitlin and Abigail Mills were told by Hazelwood police that they couldn't sell Girl Scout Cookies in their own driveway. Although city officials had known for seven years that the girls were violating an ordinance banning the sale of items from a residential property, they had turned a blind eye. But when an anonymous neighbor called to complain about dogs barking at customers picking up their cookies, police decided they could no longer ignore the violation. The sisters estimate they missed out on about $1,200 in sales as a result of the shutdown.

Unhappy with the ban, the Mills, along with pro bono help from the Freedom Center of Missouri, have filed suit against the City of Hazelwood, claiming their constitutional rights are being limited by the city's ordinance. In August, a St. Louis County judge threw the case out, saying the girls needed to try to resolve the matter through zoning variances before bringing the case to court. However, that judgment was overruled in March of this year, by a judge who feels that it’s not the place of the Hazelwood city council to decide on constitutional issues. The Mills sisters will get their date in court, and some legal analysts are saying the outcome of the case could set a precedent that would finally declare a winner in the war on lemonade stands.
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For more stories like these, check out this Google Map of Local Restrictions on Kid-Run Concession Stands. Did you have a lemonade stand as a kid? Tell us about your entrepreneurial adventures in the comments.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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.