CLOSE
Original image

The Weird Week in Review

Original image

Cyclist Collides with Black Bear

57-year-old Jim Litz was riding his bicycle to work in Missoula, Montana when he came over a rise and saw a 300-pound black bear right in front of him! He didn't even have time to brake, and ran right into the bear. The two tumbled over together before the bear ran away. The weight of the bear had cracked Litz' helmet, and he had claw scratches over his torso. Litz was taken to a local hospital.

World's Oldest Man Celebrate 113th Birthday

Tomoji Tanabe of Japan is the world's oldest man, and the eleventh oldest living person in the world. On Thursday he celebrated his 113th birthday at his home with a visit from the local mayor.
*
"I'm happy," said Tomoji Tanabe as the local mayor presented him with flowers and a giant tea cup glazed with his name and date of birth. "I'm well. I eat a lot," he added.
*
Japan has over 36,000 people aged 100 or older.

Hotel Fires Philanderers

A resort hotel in Turkey that caters to British and Russian tourists has fired all its male staff members for carrying on with female hotel guests. Image Hotel in Marmaris on the Mediterranean coast will now operate with an all-female staff. Manager Pelin Yucel said the change has been years in coming.

"The last straw was when I saw our bartender, who was a very decent man, walk out of the bathroom with a British tourist," Yucel was quoted in the media as saying.

Blind Masseurs Jump from Bridge

150jump.jpgIn South Korea, a law enacted in 1963 said only blind people could be licensed to practice the art of massage. A recent ruling granted to right to sighted people as well. In response, a group of blind masseurs staged a protest in which they threatened to jump from a bridge over Seoul's Han River. 26 were arrested and two jumped into the water. No injuries were reported.

Donkey Jailed for Theft

Authorities in Egypt arrested and man and his donkey for stealing corn out of a field that belonged to an agricultural research institution. The two were arrest at a police checkpoint when the corn was found in their possession. The man was given a fine of 50 Egyptian pounds, which is equivalent to around nine dollars. The donkey, however, was sentenced to 24 hours in jail!

Polar Bear Causes Panic

150bearart.jpgThe bomb squad responded to call about a polar bear rummaging in a trash can Tuesday in Washington, DC. Citizens said he had been there for hours. The nearby Metro station and the surrounding area were evacuated. Ambulances and fire trucks were on hand to respond. A bomb demolition expert approached the bear, cut it open, and pulled newspaper out. It was a street art installation.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
quiz
arrow
Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
Original image
SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES