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The Weird Week in Review

Man Sues Wife After Ugly Baby Born

Jian Feng, of northern China, got married and then he and his wife had a baby. Jian was startled at how ugly the baby was, and that the child did not resemble either parent. He first thought the baby had a different father, but then the truth came out. Before they met, the wife underwent $100,000 in plastic surgery to change the way she looked, but never disclosed it to her husband. Jian sued his unnamed wife for a divorce plus $120,000 for fraud, which he won.

Strangely, the same story appeared in 2004.

Office Thief Caught

Office employees at an animal shelter in Swinoujscie, Poland, were noticing small amounts of money and office supplies missing over the past year. All staff members were under suspicion, but a hidden camera revealed the true culprit: a cat named Clement.

After 200 GBP had gone missing in a month, managers set up the secret camera and left banknotes on the desk to see who would be tempted

The film showed two-year-old Clement - one of the centre's rescue cats - sneaking into the office at midnight and making straight for the cash.

"When we watched the video we saw Clement jump up on the desk and pick up the money in her mouth," said Alina.

Following clues from the video, they looked under the sofa and found all the missing money. They suspect Clement left no clues behind because she always wears white gloves. See a video report with subtitles.

Fire Station Fire

A fire station in Lanzhou, Gansu province, China, was gutted by a fire recently, causing chagrin to the local fire department. It was first announced as a training exercise," but later fire officials had to admit that a spark from welders caused the fire when it ignited a nearby can of gasoline, then spread out of control. The improperly-stored gas can led at least one blogger to ridicule fire officials, who demand that others follow strict safety regulations.

Landlords Arrested for Reporting Drugs

Police in Rex, Georgia, arrested three men and searched their rented house for drugs. Officers turned the house over to the landlord after the search, and Michael Keeley and his family began to clear out the rental house to ready it for the next tenant. The family found a stash of eight bags of narcotics hidden behind the walls, and called police to report the find. Officers responded, and then arrested Keeley and his wife for tampering with evidence! Police threatened to send the couple's 9-year-old son to child services, but a neighbor took him in. The Keeleys spent two days in jail before they could post bond.

Police Break Up Cat Party

Residents of Suðurnes, Iceland, called police on Sunday after they observed several cats going in and out a window of an unoccupied house.

Police arrived at the scene and, entering the house, found no people there. However, two to three cats - the exact number is still unclear - were allegedly occupying the house. According to police reports, the cats were "snuggling" on a couch that had been left behind by the previous residents.

Officers on the scene sprang into action, immediately evicting the cats from the house. They then ensured that all doors and windows into the house were securely closed and locked, in the hopes of preventing an incident of this sort from ever happening again.

Squatters holding parties in abandoned buildings will not be tolerated -even if they are cats.

Just Coffee, Please

The coffee shop at Debenhams, a department store on High Street in London, determined that 70% of their customers found American-style coffee shop terms confusing. So they did what any smart business would do -they decided to use more English terms such as "small coffee with milk" instead of “venti skinny latte.” Store officials said the previous language caused shoppers to spend time playing "coffee Cluedo" instead of enjoying their beverages.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
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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