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The Weird Week in Review

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Police Want Beer Goggles Back

Police in Buffalo Grove, Illinois are missing their beer goggles. The special $150 glasses are designed to simulate the effects of intoxication by changing the wearer's visual perception. The department used them in school demonstrations on the dangers of drunk driving. The goggles went missing from a table at a public event, and the public has been asked to help find them. Police believe they were probably taken by accident.

Mystery Torch Guard Becomes Chinese Sex Symbol

China will not release the names of the squad of guards charged with escorting the Olympic torch on its worldwide journey, so they have been given nicknames in China. "Second Brother on the Right", named for his customary position, has become a sensation among Chinese women, who are charmed by his looks and demeanor, as well as his bravery in the face of trouble during the torch relay in various countries. The nameless young man has received tons of publicity as well as propositions and proposals via internet.

World's Oldest Bouncer Retires

Bob Dudley began working the door at the Irchester (England) Working Men's Club after he retired as a factory manager at age 65. Twenty-five years later, he finally retired from his second career -on his 90th birthday! Dudley was chosen as bouncer because of the mental toughness he showed as a prisoner of war in Germany. He excelled at the job, making sure that anyone entering the club was a member.

"I think it is important to keep working into old age. It keeps you lively and active and stops you from slouching about all over the place. It is really fulfilling."

Grape Auction Brings 100,000 Yen

150grapes.jpgYou think groceries are expensive where you are? In Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, a bunch of grapes sold for 100,000 yen Monday, or $920. The bunch has 35 grapes, so each grape cost around $26. The new variety Ruby Roman grapes are the size of ping pong balls and sell for an average of $248 a bunch.

Angler's Ashes Turned Into Fish Food

Peter Hodge of Puriton, Somerset, England was an avid fisherman for 40 years before learning he was dying of terminal motor neurone disease. He requested that after death that his body be turned into fish food! The 61-year old Hodge died last month, and his cremated remains were mixed with 30 pounds of his own recipe for groundbait. His widow and daughter were the first to pitch the fish food into the River Huntspill, at a ceremony to begin a fishing competition among Hodge's friends. Hodge's wife Caroline said,

"He wanted the fish to gobble him up so he could swim up and down the river after his death.

"Everything that he wished for was done right down to the last. It was only right for us to carry out his final wishes."

Truck Buyer Uses $8,000 in Coins

150coins.jpg70-year-old James F. Jones of New Miami, Ohio bought a new truck to replace his 1981 pickup. To pay for it, he brought in 16 coffee cans full of change! It took the staff of the car dealership an hour and a half to count the coins, which came to roughly $8,000, or half the cost of the new Chevy Silverado. Jones wrote a check for the rest of the purchase price. He said he didn't trust paper money because it can burn.

Birmingham, England, Alabama, What's the Difference?

Officials in Birmingham, England used a picture of Birmingham, Alabama by mistake when printing official leaflets on recycling. The headline says "Thank You Birmingham!" over a picture of the Alabama city. The City Council spent £15,000 to print and distribute 720,000 of the leaflets before the error was discovered by a resident who Googled the American city to be sure. There are no plans to reprint the leaflets.

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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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