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The Weird Week in Review

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Bride's Dress Falls Apart at Altar

A 30-year-old woman in Italy is suing her dressmaker for 23,000 euros after her wedding dress fell apart. The stitching came undone as the couple stood at the altar, revealing her bottom to the congregation. The ceremony was completed, but proper photographs could not be taken at the wedding in 2006. The bride and her husband have since separated.

Immigrant Cat Survives 7 Days in Locked Truck

A cat named Mia jumped into a delivery truck in Ezstergom, Hungary looking for a place to give birth. The truck driver then drove over a thousand miles to the company's home base in Milton Keynes in the UK. The truck was not opened for the seven day journey, during which time Mia delivered two kittens. The adventure gained Mia a nomination for the 'Most Incredible Story' category at the upcoming Rescue Cat Awards 2008.

Woman Kills Husband with Folding Couch

A woman in St. Petersburg, Russia was upset with her drunk husband and kicked the handle of their automatic folding couch as he was lying on the fold-out bed. The bed folded up, and the husband was caught between the mattress and the back of the couch. She waited three hours to check on him. Emergency service workers responded, but said that the man had died instantly.

Human Pincushion Welcomes Olympics

125olyflags.jpg58-year-old acupuncturist Wen Shengchu planted 200 miniature flagpoles plus an Olympic torch in his head to welcome visitors to Beijing for the Olympics. He had seen people paint flags on their faces and decided to outdo them. He says the piercing needles do not hurt, but he advices others not to try this stunt. Wen plans to put 2008 needles in his head to commemorate the opening ceremonies on August 8th. See a video here.

Naked Man Hijacks Bus

Police were called Tuesday after 35-year-old Charles P. Sell was seen naked and stealing beer in Las Vegas. Sells fled the scene, jumped onto a moving city bus, and broke out the back window to get inside. He threw the driver off the bus and drove it about 200 yards, then leapt off. A police officer had to board to stop the still-moving bus! Sells was arrested and sent for a mental evaluation, then booked on grand larceny and other charges.

Collecting Cow Farts

150cowfart.jpgScientists in Argentina are studying the effect of methane produced by livestock on global warming. To measure the amount of gas produced by cows, animals have been outfitted with pink tanks to collect their farts! Their findings: each cow produces between 800 to 1,000 liters of emissions every day, according to Guillermo Berra, a researcher at the National Institute of Agricultural Technology. Researchers say feeding cows clover and alfalfa instead of grain can reduced emissions by 25%.

Drunk Joins Firefighting Team

When a fire alarm rang out in Berlin, a 38-year-old inebriated man answered the call. He rushed to the fire station and was outfitted by firefighters, who did not know he was an impostor. After arriving at the burning apartment building, the other firefighters realized they had been infiltrated and called police.

"When fire breaks out, it's all hands on deck!" the man told officers when questioned about his motives. He was released without charge after sobering up overnight in a police cell.

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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]