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The Weird Week in Review

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100,000 Attend Topless Biker Parade

An estimated 100,000 workers in Auckland, New Zealand gathered to watch the annual "Boobs on Bikes" parade Wednesday. Female porn stars and drag queens cruised topless as spectators competed for good vantage points to take photographs. The event was organized by adult film producer Steve Crow as part of an "Erotic Expo." The city council had introduced a bylaw to ban the parade, but at the last minute, a judge ruled that the display was not offensive. With video.

Plane Hangs Upside Down

An unnamed retired couple in Germany were flying their small plane when it became entangled in power lines. They were left hanging upside-down in the plane while fuel dripped over them and 380,000 volt cables ran above them. Authorities considered a helicopter rescue, but that would have been too dangerous. After three hours, the two were rescued by workers in a cherry picker. They were treated at a hospital for shock.

Australian Mayor Looking for Ugly Women

John Molony is the mayor of Mount Isa, an isolated mining town in the Australian Outback. In an attempt to alleviate the imbalance of men to women in his village, he made remarks to a newspaper that "beauty-disadvantaged" women seem to be happy in Mount Isa. The female population of the town took offense, saying the men there were not exactly gems, either.

"We've got a saying up here that the odds are good, but the goods are odd," 27-year-old Anna Warrick told The Brisbane Times.

Two-headed Turtle Stolen

150Two-headed turtle.jpgAn unnamed two-headed turtle is missing from an animal shelter in New York City. Owner Sean Casey reported the turtle kidnapped on Sunday, although police at first did not believe him. The turtle was surrendered to the shelter, which is also a pet supply store, when its previous owner could not care for him. In the several months the turtle lived at the shelter, he became popular with the neighborhood children. Casey believes a child may have taken the turtle as a pet, but wants him back because he needs special care. Two-headed turtles have maneuverability problems, and may drown if they encounter deep water.

Keys Locked in Getaway Car

Police arrested 24-year-old John Wilkinson on robbery charges. He had allegedly taken Xanax and hydrocodone from a drugstore in Stanton, Texas. He left his car running out front, but found he had inadvertently locked the doors! He led police on a brief foot chase until they shot him in the shoulder. Wilkinson was taken to the hospital and then to jail.

Standing at His Own Wake

125angel.jpgAngel Pantoja Medina of San Juan, Puerto Rico had wished to remain standing even after his death. His wish was granted as the 24-year-old stood for three days at his own wake! He was propped in a corner, wearing his Yankees baseball cap and sunglasses. Medina was found dead under a bridge a week ago, and buried on Monday. Police are investigating the circumstances of his death.

Cat Survives Ride on Speeding Ambulance

Paramedic Myles White of New South Wales, Australia responded to a medical emergency that required a 13 kilometer trip at speeds up to 100 kph with lights and sirens. When he was loading the patient, he heard meowing from the top of the ambulance. It was his own cat! Chloe had apparently climbed on top of the vehicle to nap when the call came in. White was amazed that she managed to hold on for trip.

"I cannot believe that she managed to stay on and survive.

"When I took her down, she was all fluffed up and her eyes were a bit blown out and she did a big 'Help, get me off' meow."

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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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