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The Weird Week ending April 25th

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Church Applies for Liquor License

The Reverend Geraint ap Iorwerth of St Peter ad Vincula Church in Pennal, Wales plans to apply for a liquor license next month. The license is necessary for the church to sell and serve drinks at church functions such as weddings and christenings. The Reverend said there are plans to open a bar and serve drinks in a new church cafe in the future as well.

There's an Alligator in My Kitchen!150_gator.jpg

Sandra Frosti of Eastlake Woodlands, Florida heard a noise coming from her kitchen. When she went to check, she saw an alligator next to the refrigerator. She called an emergency operator who suggested it might be an iguana. Deputies who responded summoned an animal trapper who removed the alligator, which measured 8 feet 8 inches. Authorities believe the gator broke through the back porch screen door to pursue Frosti's cat.

Postal Carrier Catches Falling Baby

Lisa Harrell changed her postal route Monday because she had an Express Mail package to deliver. She was at the address at 11AM when a one-year-old baby girl fell out of a half-opened second story window.

"I noticed the upstairs window open halfway," she said. "The baby fell right into my arms. Everything happened so quick."

Paramedics examined the baby and found no visible injuries.

118ubab.jpgBig Baby Boy Takes After Parents

Svetlana Singh is the tallest woman in India at 7 feet 2 inches tall. Her husband, Sanjay, is 6 feet 6 inches. Their ten-month-old son Karan is already 3 feet 2 inches tall! His mother says he eats twenty times a day.

"He just doesn't stop eating and never stops growing," she said.

"He is only ten-months-old and wears clothes designed for five-year-olds."

The Singhs are proud of their son and hope he may become a basketball player and attend college in America some day.

Two Women Report Sexual Acts with a Ghost

Two unnamed women in Federal Way, Washington reported to police that a ghost has visited their home and placed sensors on their bodies. They also reported the ghost had sexual relations with them. Their stories differed in that one woman said the visits began two years ago, and the other said they had just started.


Record Coke/Mentos Explosion

About 1,500 students participated in a Mentos/Diet Coke demonstration in Ladeuzeplein square in Leuven, Belgium. Each wore a blue poncho and added Mentos mints to a bottle of Diet Coke for a simultaneous explosion! A new world record has been set. See more picture in The Telegraph. A video is here.

Synchronized Swimmers Rescued from Pool

Three members of the Seattle Synchronized Swim Team were hospitalized after passing out in St. Edward State Park swimming pool during practice. Two coaches and a lifeguard had to pull them out of the pool. Another team member complained of dizziness and disorientation, and a mother near the pool also blacked out. High levels of chemicals in the pool are suspected.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]