CLOSE
Original image

The Weird Week in Review

Original image

Fake Cop Pulls Over Real Cop

If you're going to impersonate a police officer, be careful who you confront! 20-year-old Israel Gomez used a siren and red flashing lights to pull over a car on Tuesday night in Hartford Connecticut. In that car was Lt. Ronald Bair, an off-duty officer with the Hartford police department. Bair called for backup, and Gomez was arrested, along with Esteban Cardona, who was in another vehicle. The two were charged with reckless driving, and Gomez is also charged with impersonating a police officer and improper use of flashing lights.

Horse Gets Head Stuck in Tree

Jason Harschbarger of Pullman, West Virginia was surprised to come across a horse with her head stuck in a tree. Gracie had put her head in the gap between two trunk sections and  become firmly wedged. Harschbarger, a neighbor of the horse's owner, used a chainsaw to carefully cut the tree around Gracie's neck. She suffered a few minor injuries but is now on the road to recovery.

Woman Jailed After Virtual Murder

An unnamed Japanese woman reacted in anger after her virtual husband divorced her in the interactive game "Maple Story". She reacted by killing him -not the player, but his online avatar. The player whose online persona was murdered complained to police, who arrested the woman on suspicion of hacking. She used information she got from the other player in order to destroy his avatar. If convicted, she could face up to five years in prison.

Houseplant Has a Personal Blog

125bloggingplant.jpgMidori-san is a hoya kerrii, or sweetheart plant, that has its own personal blog. The plant lives in a cafe in Kamakura, Japan and has sensors attached to its leaves. The sensors send data abut the plant's physical state to a computer, which translates it into Japanese and posts it to the web. Information about weather conditions is also factored into the posts.
*
"Today was a sunny day and I was able to sunbathe a lot"¦ I had quite a bit of fun today," it wrote on October 16 from its cafe in Kamakura, near Tokyo.

Woman Stalked by Man in Hearse

An Australian undertaker was sentenced this week for stalking a woman by following her in a hearse. 37-year-old Adam Lee followed Maureen Wyer through the streets of Sydney one night in December of 2004 while yelling and blowing the vehicle's horn. He was convicted of drunk driving, disobeying police orders, and driving in a menacing manner. Lee's attorney admitted that his client binge drinks on weekends.

Spider Eats Bird

125spidereatingbird.jpgA spider known as the Golden Orb Weaver was photographed in Atherton, Queensland, Australia eating a bird! The bird is a Chestnut-breasted Mannikin, which likely flew into the spider's web and could not free itself. The Golden Orb Weaver is known to grow larger than a human hand. Les Martin, the man who took the photographs stated that the bird was already dead when he snapped the pictures.

Naked Man Wedged in Chimney

Firefighters were called to the aid of a 22-year-old man stuck upside down in a chimney of a Tesco store in Wigan, England. He is being held on suspicion of burglary.

Police said that because the man was naked he was taken to hospital as a precaution but was treated and discharged before being arrested.

A GMP spokeswoman said: "It is believed some of his clothes came off as a result of him struggling to get out of the chimney."

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
iStock
Animals
arrow
Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
Original image
iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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