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The Weird Week in Review

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Nude Hiker Vows to Do It Again

German janitor Siegfried Grawert was arrested for public nudity while campaigning for the right to hike naked. He was jailed for ten days because he refused to pay the 500 euro fine. Grawert told a local newspaper he planned to continue participating in organized nude hikes. Germany is tolerant of nude bathing, but less so of hiking and jogging in the buff.

Fisherman Hooks Himself

Fisherman Peter Inskip cast his line towards a lake near his home in Uxbridge, England and caught it in some brush. When he tried to pull it out, the lure snapped back at him and the lead fishing weight embedded itself into his chest! He could feel the weight in the back of his throat as paramedics rushed him to the hospital. Surgeons removed the weight, breaking his breastbone in the process and leaving him with six stitches. They said he was lucky he hadn't nicked an artery. Inskip plans to fish again as soon as he is able.
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"It hasn't put me off one bit. The biggest downside is I'll probably never catch anything that big again."

Attempted Murder by Haunted House

38-year-old Sean A. Jennings of Spokane, Washington was sentenced to 12 years for trying to murder his wife. Last October, he called his wife out to the garage to see a haunted house he had arranged. He blindfolded her, telling her it was a surprise, then placed a noose around her neck. The woman lost consciousness before Jennings released her. When she came to, he advised her to hide the wound with a neck brace. The divorce was final a month later. Jennings pleaded guilty to second-degree attempted murder in a plea bargain.

Cow Stuck in Washer

150stuckcow.jpgA curious heifer in Cornwall got more than she bargained for when she stuck her head inside an abandoned washing machine. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals responded to a call and found the cow with the machine's drum completely encasing her head. RSPCA inspector David Hobbs freed the animal, and issued a statement about the irresponsibility of those who dump appliances instead of taking them to an approved landfill.

Stiletto Sprint

A $5,000 cash prize drew hundreds of women and several men to race in high heels down the street in Sydney, Australia last weekend. The 80-meter dash resulted in sore feet, twisted ankles, and a big pileup out of the starting gate. The winner was 18-year-old Brittney McGlone of Braidwood. The 265 people who ran set a record previously held by Holland, where 150 high-heeled runners participated in a similar event.

Woman "In Shock" Over 6-foot Zucchini

150zucchini.jpgApollonia Castitlione of Queens, New York grows zucchini every year, along with tomatoes and string beans. She's grown 4-foot zucchini before, but never anything as long as the 6-foot vegetable still growing in her garden. Castitlione posed with the zucchini, which is taller than she is, and said she would save the seeds to plant next year.
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"It's so straight, it's so perfect. Usually, some are really crooked."*

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The world record for zucchini is 7 feet, ten inches.

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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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