Sunday, 31 March 2019


10 Weird Laws And Why They Were Passed
By Oliver Taylor,
Listverse, 29 March 2019.

There are many weird laws around the world today. The majority of them were passed centuries ago and have never been repealed, although they’re not currently being enforced. Still, many of them are on the books, and plenty of people can unknowingly commit crimes for various odd reasons, though they probably won’t actually get in trouble for it, of course.

While these laws sound ridiculous to us today, we should know they were passed at the time for practical reasons. From restrictions on clothing to what may be done with which animals, here are ten strange laws from around the world and why they were passed.

10. It Is Illegal To Wear A Top Hat In Public (United Kingdom)

On January 16, 1797, a man named John Hetherington was apparently the first to wear a top hat in England. Nobody had seen a top hat at that time, so it was scary and controversial. According to a contemporaneous account, people became frightened, children shouted, dogs barked, and women fainted as Hetherington wore his silk hat through London.

The son of one Cordwainer Thomas broke his arm after he was pushed to the floor by the crowd that gathered around Hetherington. Hetherington was arrested and charged with disturbing the King’s peace and inciting a riot for “appearing on the public highway wearing upon his head [...] a tall structure having a shining lustre, and calculated to frighten timid people.” He was fined either £50 or £500, depending on which source you consult.

However, Hetherington insisted he had not broken any law. To prevent a repeat, the government of the day passed a law banning citizens from wearing top hats.

9. It Is Illegal For A Moose To Enter A Saloon Via The Sidewalk (Fairbanks, Alaska)

It is illegal for a moose to enter a bar through the sidewalk in Fairbanks, Alaska. The law was passed during the early 20th century because a tavern owner was fond of getting his pet moose drunk. The intoxicated moose often went on rampages, destroying property.

City officials soon had enough and passed a law banning moose from public sidewalks, thus meaning that the moose in question could no longer get into the man’s saloon. The tavern owner stopped bringing his moose to his bar but still got it drunk in his home. It is unknown why the town couldn’t simply outlaw getting moose drunk.

8. It Is Illegal To Enter Parliament With Weapons Or Full Armor (United Kingdom)

On October 30, 1313, King Edward II of England passed the Statutum de Defensione Portandi Arma. The law forbids MPs from entering Parliament with weapons or in full armor. The law is still upheld today and has been extended to bulletproof vests.

King Edward II passed the law after “certain individuals” interrupted and disorganized several meetings he’d had with members of Parliament. The king guessed the people were either disgruntled with the war with Scotland or over rumors that he was gay.

Today, coat hangers in the cloakrooms of the British Parliament are modified to hold the swords of members of Parliament. (It is unknown how many MPs currently carry swords.) Meanwhile, visitors and non-parliamentarians theoretically still are allowed to bring weapons and bulletproof vests into Parliament.

7. It Is Illegal To Die Within Town Limits (Italy, France, Spain, And Norway)

Several towns in different countries have permanently or temporarily banned townspeople from dying within town limits.

In 2012, the mayor of Falciano dal Massico, Italy, banned residents from dying within town limits. The mayor issued the ban after the local cemetery became full. He said people would only be allowed to die after a new cemetery had been built. At least two people died while the law was in force.

The town of Bordeaux, France, also issued a similar ban after the local cemetery reached capacity, and the court stopped the town from extending the cemetery. The mayor mentioned that only people with burial plots at the cemetery were allowed to die and promised severe punishment for defaulters.

The town of Lanjaron, Spain, also banned people from dying within town limits for the same reason. The mayor ordered that townspeople pay attention to their health and suspended their deaths until the town acquired new land for a cemetery.

One town with a permanent ban on death is Longyearbyen, Norway, which has banned residents from dying since 1950. The town is considered the world’s most northernmost city (as in having more than 1,000 residents) and is covered in permafrost. The ban was issued after residents discovered that the dead simply froze in the cemetery the instead of decaying. This meant dangerous pathogens could survive in the cadavers and possibly re-infect the living. Old and sick people are usually transported off the island to live their last days.

6. It Is Illegal To Use Cell Phones In Banks (Argentina, Brazil, And The Philippines)

The governments of Rio de Janeiro, Argentina, and the Philippines have passed laws banning customers from using cell phones inside banks. The bans were attempts to reduce bank robberies.

Criminals would sometimes enter banks and monitor customers withdrawing money and leaving the bank. Once a target was spotted, the robber would use his cell phone to instruct other gang members outside the bank to rob the client.

These sort of robberies had been reduced by 23 percent in Rio de Janeiro two years after bank customers were banned from using cell phones and radio transmitters. They were reduced by 20 percent in Argentina. However, some skeptics doubt the efficiency of the ban, since most bank robbers trail the customer and rob them outside the bank.

The Philippines also proposed a similar law, which was quickly adopted as a rule by banks even before the law was passed. Called the “Cell Phone in Banks Prohibition Act,” the law bans clients from using communication gadgets, including cell phones and laptops, within bank premises.

Bank workers are permitted to use their devices but not in the presence of clients. However, doctors and emergency health personnel are allowed to use their cell phones while responding to emergencies or consulting with patients.

5. It Is Illegal To Use Cell Phones And Many Other Devices (Green Bank, West Virginia)

It is illegal to use cell phones, Wi-Fi, radios, or microwaves in the small town of Green Bank, Virginia. This is because the town contains the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope, which is operated by the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO).

The NRAO telescope receives radio signals from faraway stars and galaxies. The signals are often very weak, and nearby radio signals would interfere with its operation. So in 1958, Congress passed a law banning radio devices around the observatory.

The law declared a 16-kilometer (10 mi) radius around the observatory to be radio device-free. The law also mandated that radio wave devices be regulated within a larger 33,700-square kilometer (13,000 mi2) zone that extends into neighboring Pennsylvania and Virginia.

4. It Was Illegal For Women To Drive (Saudi Arabia)

Women were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia until 2018. To be clear, Saudi Arabia never explicitly formally banned women from driving. However, it did not permit women to drive or get licenses, either. Women who dared to drive were arrested and fined.

Women were not allowed to drive because Saudi Arabia follows the strict Wahhabism version of Islamic law. Wahhabism demands that women cover themselves and be kept separate from men. It also requires every woman to have a male guardian.

3. It Was Illegal To Eat Swans (United Kingdom)

It is illegal to keep or kill mute swans (which are the stereotypical swans most people envision) in the UK. The ban was issued under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, which was passed to protect native animals. However, an earlier law had banned British citizens from eating swans. That law was only repealed in 1998.

Unlike the 1981 act, which is concerned with conservation, the older law was concerned with reserving the swans for the aristocrats. European nobility developed a taste for swans in the 12th century, and it soon spread to England, where it became a symbol of riches and nobility and was frequently served at royal feasts.

In 1482, the British crown was so concerned with protecting its swan supplies from the commoners that it passed a law limiting ownership of swans to the nobles. Hunting, selling, and killing swans attracted harsh punishments, as did did stealing their eggs.

However, the monarchy allowed rich landlords, organizations, and institutions to own swans. Only the richest of the rich could afford the rings used to mark ownership. The crown left their swans untagged, while everybody else tagged theirs. Swan-eating fell out of style by the 20th century.

2. It Is Illegal To Freely Serve Ketchup In Schools (France)

In 2011, France passed a law mandating that sauces (such as ketchup, mayonnaise, and so on) must not be freely accessible to students but served according to various dishes. So, a portion of ketchup can be served with, say, French fries, but students can’t just slather whatever they want with as much ketchup as they want. This sauce mandate was meant to improve the overall dietary quality of meals.

Various news outlets reported this as France banning ketchup in schools altogether. While some did report that the “ban” was for health reasons, there were also claims that the French government outlawed ketchup in order to promote French dishes and culture.

1. It Is Illegal To Play Online Games Between Midnight And 6:00 AM (South Korea)

In 2011, the South Korean government passed the Shutdown Law (also called the Cinderella Act) to curb excessive gaming among teenagers. The law requires that teenagers below the age of 16 to be shut out of online game servers between 12:00 AM and 6:00 AM. However, they can continue to play offline games on their personal consoles, phones, tablets, and laptops.

Game players above 16 are required to access game servers using their social security numbers. The ban was later amended so that teenagers below 16 could play online games past midnight with their parents’ permission.

Top image credit: Ramdlon/Pixabay.

[Source: Listverse. Top image added.]

Saturday, 30 March 2019


5 Awesome AI Experiences You Can Test Out in Your Browser Right Now
By David Nield,
Gizmodo, 28 March 2019.

Artificial intelligence is already everywhere, and its influence is growing. It can be hard to get your head around exactly what AI does and how it can be deployed though, which is why we present to you these five fun online experiments - all you need is a web browser and a few minutes to see some of the party tricks AI is already capable of.

1. Semantris

Credit: Google

What does it do? Semantris recognizes words from your definitions

Who made it? Google

How does it work? Be wary of loading this one up unless you’ve got a bit of time to spare today, because it can be particularly addictive: The idea is to remove blocks from a wall by typing out definitions that Google’s AI can recognize.

Using machine learning algorithms, Google engineers have trained Semantris on billions of lines of sample dialog. By picking up associations between words, that should give the engine enough training to spot which word in the wall you’re trying to define - though it can come up with some unexpected guesses.

Google recommends “playing with slang, technical terms, pop culture references, synonyms, antonyms, and even full sentences” to try and get Semantris to understand what you’re saying to it.

2. This Person Does Not Exist

Style-based GAN. Credit: Screenshot Tero Karras FI (Nvidia)/YouTube.

What does it do? This Person Does Not Exist creates artificial faces of people who don’t actually exist, using AI.

Who made it? Uber engineer Philip Wang, on top of a generative adversarial network (GAN) developed by Nvidia’s AI team.

How does it work? These faces don’t come out of thin air - they’re based on a database of training photos. What the GAN does is pit two neural networks against each other, the first to generate a fake face, and the second to judge if the face is realistic enough (based on all the real faces it’s seen).

This feedback loop repeats and repeats until a face is produced that could pass for an actual person. The most recent breakthrough - and what helps make these faces so creepily real - is the way different aspects of the face can be handled and tweaked separately, then blended together into a cohesive whole.

That means completely new faces can be generated from bits of existing ones more seamlessly than ever before. Nvidia is using similar AI engines to produce fake pictures of cats, bedrooms, and motorcars.

3. AutoDraw

Credit: AutoDraw

What does it do? Turns your amateur scribbles into polished line drawings.

Who made it? Google and a talented team of artists.

How does it work? AutoDraw is like AI’s take on Pictionary - it looks at your rather haphazard drawings on screen and then tries to recognize what you’re trying to sketch out, replacing your efforts with something much more professional.

At the heart of AutoDraw is some impressive machine learning: Your drawing gets compared against a vast database of images to try and find a fit, and it’s the AI that enables matches to appear so quickly from so little information. Note as you add more and more detail, the suggestions along the top get more and more accurate.

That’s the power of AI algorithms at work - using a training model of what a cat should look like to recognize when you’re trying to draw a cat, even if the engine hasn’t seen your precise combination of strokes and squiggles before.

4. Cyborg Writer

Credit: Cyborg Writer

What does it do? Cyborg Writer carries on sentences using AI from your initial prompts.

How does it work? Writers are by no means safe from the rapid rise of artificial intelligence, as Cyborg Writer proves - it uses an artificial neural network to finish off your sentences in the style of William Shakespeare, the US Supreme Court, David Foster Wallace, Wikipedia, or numerous other options.

Use the drop-down menu at the top to pick your style, and the Weirdness slider to adjust how crazy the linguistic freestyling gets. Then, start typing out a sentence and hit Tab to have the AI finish off your sentence for you. If you do end up writing a best-selling novel or a hit play, remember to give the machine learning engine TensorFire co-credit.

Again, the whole system is based on a trained model that’s then used to predict the most suitable response to what you’re typing, based on vast libraries of previous samples. It’s TensorFire and TensorFlow that makes the whole process so fast though, and able to run lightly in your browser without any extra software.

5. Talk to Books

Credit: Google

What does it do?  Talk to Books gives you a natural language response to a question.

Who made it? Google

How does it work? Sometimes the Google search engine can’t answer your questions...what is love? Am I dreaming? How can I finally stop thinking and fall asleep? That’s where Talk to Books comes in. In short, it’s designed to predict what a natural response to a question would be if it was actually conversing with you.

To do this, it’s been trained on text in over 100,000 books. Machine learning is used to rapidly sift through many different possible responses to find the most likely and appropriate one - it’s a lot of fun to play around with and can come up with some really intelligent responses.

Try some of the sample questions to get a feel of what’s possible. You can ask about the smartest characters in Harry Potter, for example, or ask how to write poetry. Talk to Books then picks out sentences and passages that match its response model the closest.

Top image: Semantris. Credit: Google.

[Source: Gizmodo.Images added.]

Friday, 29 March 2019


The 7 Best Satellite Phones for World Travel
By Andy Betts,
Make Use Of, 28 March 2019.

Satellite phones are vital for maintaining contact with the world when there’s no regular phone coverage. They’re ideal for anyone from weekend adventurers to those who work in remote areas.

But which is the right one for you to buy? Here’s our guide to the best satellite phones for everyone who enjoys world travel.

What You Need to Know About Satellite Phones

Just as there are competing mobile carriers with different coverage and performance levels, so there are several satellite phone service providers.

The two main services are from Iridium and Inmarsat. A discussion of which is best is beyond the scope of this article, but we can summarize it very broadly:
  • Iridium offers full, global coverage, including the North and South Pole. Signals from the 66 low earth orbit satellites can be blocked by trees or mountains, which may sometime result in dropped calls.
  • Inmarsat has satellites in high earth orbit. Signals are less likely to be blocked and are therefore more reliable for calls. However, the service is better the nearer you are to the Equator because that’s where its three satellites are located. There’s no coverage at all at less than 50 degrees north or south.
Whatever service your phone runs on, you’ll need to buy airtime as well. This will give you an allowance of minutes and texts, or data, and there are prepaid and regular plan options available. Your plan also gets you a phone number so you can make and receive calls.

Prepaid plans are the most convenient for all but very regular use, but they often have an expiry date of anywhere between 30 days and two years. Airtime is a lot more expensive than you pay for a regular cellphone plan. Make sure you factor this in when you’re budgeting for the cost of your satellite phone.

1. IsatPhone 2.1 Satellite Phone

Image credit: Amazon

The IsatPhone 2.1 Satellite Phone works on the Inmarsat service. It’s a large device measuring 6.7 inches with the antenna folded out and is pretty tough. It’s shock resistant, IP65-rated for protection and against dust and water, and can function in extreme conditions. It can handle temperatures as low as minus four degrees Fahrenheit, and 95 percent humidity.

Even more impressive is the battery life. It claims the longest life of any satellite phone at eight hours of talk and 160 hours on standby. As well as calls, you can send and receive texts and emails, and there’s an SOS function that connects you to the 24/7 GEOS emergency assistance service.

The IsatPhone is one of the most popular satellite phones and is highly rated by its users for reliability and call quality.

2. BlueCosmo Iridium 9555

Image credit: BlueCosmo

The BlueCosmo Iridium 9555 has the look of an old school Nokia phone. It’s probably as tough, too, although it is not ruggedized in the way that many other satellite phones are.

The 9555 is an inch shorter than the IsatPhone 2.1, thanks in part to the internally stowed antenna that you need to pull out to make calls or send texts or emails. It’s rated as weather resistant and can handle temperatures as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit. The battery is around three hours of talk and 30 hours on standby.

The 9555 is the most affordable phone for the Iridium network. It works anywhere in the world, although you should note that it doesn’t come with an SOS feature.

3. Iridium 9575 Extreme

Image credit: Amazon

The Iridium 9575 Extreme is smaller and lighter than the 9555, but is in a different league when it comes to toughness. It meets the 810F standard for military-grade durability. It’s also IP65-rated; shock resistant and sealed against dust and even water jets.

The phone runs on the Iridium network. As well as calls and text messages, you can use it for basic email messaging. Battery life is a solid 30 hours in standby or four hours of talk.

There’s an online tracking feature, and you can even use Google Maps to send your precise location in an SMS. On top of that, there’s an SOS button for added security.

The Iridium 9575 Extreme is expensive, but it’s a device that will withstand the very harshest conditions.

4. Globalstar GSP-1700 Satellite Phone

Image credit: Globalstar

The Globalstar GSP-1700 is an affordable satellite phone with one big caveat; it runs on the Globalstar service. This has worse coverage than the big two providers, limited to the USA and Australia, plus only partial coverage in Canada, South America, Europe, and Asia.

The phone is lightweight at around seven ounces. The main body is small, although the antenna more than doubles the height when folded out. Features are basic. It supports calls and SMS and also offers voicemail. You can access the internet at dial-up level speeds. Battery life gives four hours of talk and around 35 hours on standby.

The lower price is the main selling point. If you’re heading for a camping trip in an American National Park, this could be the right choice. But if you’re heading further afield, check Globalstar’s coverage maps first.

5. Garmin inReach SE+ Satellite Communicator

Image credit: Garmin

Not everybody needs the full functionality of a satellite phone. But that doesn’t mean they want to be cut off completely from the rest of the world. In these cases, the Garmin inReach SE+ is the ideal compromise.

The inReach SE+ is a two-way messaging device that works on the Iridium service. You can’t use it for phone calls, but you can send and receive text messages. It also has an SOS button connected to the GEOS global monitoring center. If you get into problems, they can track your device and alert nearby emergency responders.

The SE+ also functions as a GPS navigation unit. You can link it to your phone over Bluetooth to download and access maps.

6. Garmin inReach Mini

Image credit: Garmin

The Garmin inReach Mini takes the basic idea of the SE+ and downsizes it further. It’s less than four inches tall - including the antenna - and weighs just 3.5 ounces.  Despite this, it is water resistant and can deliver five days of battery life. This is a satellite communicator that you can take anywhere.

It has a similar set of features to the SE+, only in miniaturized form. If you don’t fancy typing messages on the 1.27-inch display, you can compose a series of texts in advance to send at the touch of a button.

The inReach Mini supports the SOS service, giving you peace of mind when you’re off the beaten track. You can download weather forecasts or connect the Mini to your phone for mapping. It won’t show maps on the screen but will display waypoints and a compass.

7. Iridium GO! 9560 Satellite Terminal

Image credit: Iridium

The Iridium GO! 9560 is not a phone; it’s a satellite-based wi-fi hotspot. It works with up to five iPhones or Android phones, enabling them to make calls, send and receive texts, send SOS alerts, and even post Twitter messages.

You need to install the GO! app on your phone to do this. You can also install the Iridium Mail and Web app to use data services including web browsing, email, and photo sharing. The battery is good for around 15 hours on standby and five hours of talk. You’ll need to keep your phone charged, too, of course.

The box itself is small and rugged. It meets the same durability specifications as the 9575 Extreme. With Iridium coverage you can use it globally.

The GO! 9560 is part of a newer breed of satellite device. The communal function makes it ideal for camping or sailing trips.

The Best Satellite Phone for You

A satellite phone is an important tool for world travel. It can be vital in emergencies. And you need one to stay in touch from the most remote areas or to check in with fellow travelers.

If this selection has left you curious, you could check out our guide on how satellite phones work.

Top image: Iridium Extreme satellite phone. Credit: Iridium.

[Source: Make Use Of. Some images and links added.]


Beware-y Afraid: 10 Weird & Unexpected Warning Signs
By Steve,
Web Urbanist, 19 March 2019.

Telltale signs of snowflake-ization are all around if one knows where to look but these 10 “Beware Of” signs prove we really are living in a world of hurt.

1. Beware Golf

This bit of fore-shadowing comes courtesy of Pixabay member aitoff and Charleston, SC golf bag retailer The Elliott Company. The seriously circumspect sign at the Royal North Devon Golf Club in Bideford, UK could relay several different meanings - just ask any “golf widow.” Note that the golf bag, artfully propped beneath the weathered sign, features a miniature replica of said sign. Impressive, even if you’re not Xzibit.

2. MAXI Driving Excitement

When driving in the UAE, one must expect the unexpected…if you don’t believe us, just read the sign. Flickr member Jerry “Woody” (woody1778a) snapped the er, surprisingly ambiguous sign while on a 2006 road trip through the Emirates.

3. Subtracters Say…

I was told there would be no math…oh, you mean snakes. That’s umm, NOT better, right Indy? In April of 2009, Flickr member WordRidden was moved to photograph the above warning sign in Goonhilly Downs, which just happens to be located on the UK’s most southerly point of land… The Lizard. Aha, now it’s all adding up.

4. Fronds in High Places

Don’t stand, don’t stand, don’t stand so close to tree. Just imagine: if Isaac Newton had lived in Hawaii instead of England there would be no gravity today, and therefore, no need for this warning sign. Seriously though, getting conked on your coconut BY a coconut is no laughing matter. Physics can’t be reckoned with, no matter how many palms you grease. Flickr member anokarina snapped this ominously armed and fabulous tree early in 2013.

5. Panic at the Disc, Oh!

Alien abduction just ahead, hold onto your butts! Flickr member Michel Curi chanced upon this odd - some might say “otherworldly” - warning sign from Largo, Florida in the spring of 2017. Now he spends his days constructing miniature replicas of Devil’s Tower out of mashed potatoes while muttering “This means something. This is important.”

6. Be Werewolf

“The dogs come in all shapes and sizes here,” states Flickr member Satish Krishnamurthy (Unlisted Sightings), with “here” presumably being his hometown of Mumbai, India. Wait, that’s supposed to be a dog?? Looks more like Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent after a long night of partying with Dishonest John. Whatever it is, it’s something anybody should “bewere” of.

7. Pervect Strangers

You know Japan has a problem with creepers when authorities have to put up “Beware of Perverts” signs…with bonus cartoon imagery, of course. The disturbingly cute advisory, snapped by Flickr member Toby Oxborrow (Mr Wabu) in late 2005, warns the public that “If something happens, if you see something, phone the police straight away.” There’s always a chance the responding officer is also a chikan, however. Now who ya gonna call?

8. Rainforest’s Revenge

Hail fair Australia: land of deathly venomous animals, sea creatures and… plants? Indeed, the dreaded Gympie-Gympie bush (aka Dendrocnide moroides, also aka the “suicide plant”) is kinda like poison ivy on steroids - Australian steroids at that. Rumor has it one poor bushwhacker who unknowingly used some of its leaves as Outback toilet paper ended up taking his own life as a result. So basically, when in Australia take any and all warning signs seriously, and take an extra roll of Charmin along because consequences will never be the same. Flickr member shotleyshort snapped this bilingual illustrated sign in 2005.

9. Endurian the Unendurianable

Unlike the Gympie-Gympie bush, durian fruit only SMELL deadly…hold on, we stand corrected: seems these jumbo fruits with thorn-covered rinds can cause grievous injuries before they’re even opened. Which is fine, in a way, since you won’t notice any offensive odors after both the fruit and your skull are shattered. Should you see a sign like the one Flickr member Tristan Schmurr (kewl) photographed in Singapore back in 2012, run and hide…just not under a palm tree.

10. Seven Year Hitch

Better give the thumb’s-down to anyone looking for a lift near Brickeys, Arkansas…home of the East Arkansas Regional Unit and its roughly 1,400 non-paying, orange-jumpsuited “guests.” Thomas R Machnitzki snapped the plain-talking, plain-jane placard in April of 2012. As the sign indicates, hitchhikers in the rear-view mirror may be closer to prisoners than they appear. Put the pedal to the metal before THEY get closer to YOU.

Signing Off

The great sage and eminent cartoon character Homer Simpson once said, Stop. Doing. Anything. Unfortunately, he came to this realization AFTER breaking the sun. Still, it’s a wise policy whether one’s out on the road or roaming close to home. To beware or not to be aware, let the signs be your guide.

Top image credit: aitoff/Pixabay.

[Source: Web Urbanist.]