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The Weird Week ending April 4th

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The Running of the Sheep

The town of Te Kuiti, New Zealand staged their own version of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, with one difference -they used sheep! Nearly two thousand sheep ran through the streets on Sunday. The event drew crowds of tourists and locals to Te Kuiti, where sheep farmers have been dealing with the effects of a drought for the last few months.

Underwater Ironing Record Set150_ironing.jpg

A group of 72 Australian scuba divers have taken "extreme ironing" to new heights by setting a record for underwater ironing. The group took their linens and their irons (sans cords) into the 3 meter deep ocean off the coast of Melbourne. The previous record for underwater ironing was a group of 70 who ironed in a pool in 2005. Saturday's event also raised money for an underwater conservation cause.

Burglar Plays Dead

Neighbors of the Crespo Funeral Home in Burjassot, Spain heard someone breaking in during the night and called police. The owners and police searched the mortuary and found a 23-year-old man lying in a glass case used for viewing deceased people during wakes. He was trying to play dead, but his everyday clothing gave him away. And he was breathing. The man's name has not been released.

150Joey.jpgDog Saves Joey

A four-month old kangaroo was in his mother's pouch when she was killed by a car in Torquay, Victoria, Australia. The unharmed joey would normally have died, but Rex the mixed-breed dog gently took the roo to his owner, Leonie Allan. The kangaroo was calm and even snuggled up with Rex. Now named Rex Jr, the joey is under the care of the Jirrahlinga Wildlife Sanctuary, and will be released at 18 months of age.

Diamond Thong

The Triumph Luxurious Diamond Thong was the highlight of a lingerie fashion show in Singapore on Thursday. The front of the thong has 518 cut diamonds worth $122,000. Romanian model Danielle Luminita wore the thong as she was carried down the catwalk on the shoulders of two male models. The thong is not for sale, and will be put on display, after dry cleaning.

FSM Statue Erected at Tennessee Courthouse150_fsm-statue-front.jpg

The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster installed a statue of the deity outside the Cumberland County Courthouse in Crossville, Tennessee. The group released a statement that says, in part:

The Flying Spaghetti Monster is a pile of noodles and meatballs, but it is meant to open up discussion and provoke thought. Being able to put up a statue is a celebration of our freedom as Americans; a freedom to be different, to express those differences, and to do it amongst neighbors -— even if it is in a noodley way.

The courthouse lawn has a variety of symbolic artwork from citizens and groups. See a video of the TV coverage.

Students Accused of Plagiarizing Honor Code

Students at the University of Texas at San Antonio produced an honor code to discourage cheating and plagiarizing. The draft was a direct copy of the honor code used by Brigham Young University, which is posted online. BYU cited their source, The Center for Academic Integrity at Clemson, but the Texas school did not. The project spanned several years, and was started by students who are no longer at the school. Akshay Thusu, the student now in charge of the project, said the code will have proper attribution by the time it is submitted to faculty.

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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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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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