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The Weird Week ending February 15th

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Dog Walks 70 Miles Through War Zone

Major Brian Dennis adopted an abused mixed-breed dog in Anbar Province, Iraq. He named the dog Nubs because his ears had been cut off. Dennis nursed Nubs back to health over four months, but then he was ordered to move his squadron 70 miles away. Two days later, Nubs rejoined Dennis! The dog had tracked him down despite 18 degree weather and rough terrain. But the major received orders to get rid of the dog within four days or he would be shot. Dennis started an email campaign to save Nubs that raised three thousand dollars within a few days, and battled bureaucratic difficulties to get the dog out of Iraq across the Jordanian border. Nubs will be flown to Camp Pendleton in San Diego, where a fighter pilot will care for him until Dennis can come home.

Oscar Mayer Weinermobile Wipes Out150weiner.jpg

The Oscar Mayer Weinermobile spun out on snow-covered route 15 near Mansfield, Pennsylvania Sunday and landed in a ditch. The two 22-year-olds in the vehicle knew they were in hot water when they hit an icy patch, but they weren't hotdogging. It was not an experience they would relish, but they are none the wurst for wear.

Cat Pulls a Fast One on Florida Firefighters

Firefighters in Weston, Florida spent an hour in the rain Tuesday trying to rescue a kitten from the undercarriage of a Volvo. They jacked up the car and removed the wheel, but the kitten kept moving deeper into the car. The cat left the car on its own, and the firefighters spent another hour trying to find it. When they left the scene, they responded to a couple more calls before returning to the fire station. Five hours later, they found the kitten -in the wheelwell of the fire truck! It took three people and a firehose to extract the cat, who was dirty but unharmed.

150_bodybuilder.jpgWorld's Smallest Bodybuilder

Indian bodybuilder Aditya 'Romeo' Dev is only 2' 9" and weighs only 20 pounds, but it's all muscle. He spends hours every day working out with trainer Ranjeet Pal in his hometown of Phagwara. The 19-year-old is aiming for an international entertainment career after performing in many local TV shows.

British Officials Paid for Public Housing Exorcism

Residents of state housing in Easington, England were so distressed about unusual occurances that they were ready to leave and become homeless. The housing council agreed to pay half of a psychic ghosthunter's fee of 120 pounds ($235) to clear the premises. Psychic Suzanne Hadwin said she used her Russian spirit guide and the help of angels to rid the house of evil.

Naked Cowboy Sues Over Singing M&M150Naked.jpg

The Naked Cowboy of Times Square has filed a $6 million lawsuit against Mars. Robert Burk says the candy maker stole his image for a massive video billboard featuring an M&M wearing a cowboy hat, boots, and briefs.

"All I've got is my underwear. It's the most brilliant thing that's ever been created from a marketing perspective. You can't stop it," said Burck, 37, who said he filed suit on the advice of lawyers and trademark experts.

Bodybuilders Pluck Car from Ditch

A group of ten bodybuilders were training at the Explosives gym in Bad Zwischenahn, Germany when a car ran into a 6-foot deep ditch nearby. Together, they lifted the car out with their bare hands in just a few minutes. The grateful driver treated the strongmen to a round of energy drinks at the fitness studio bar.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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