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The Weird Week in Review

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Gas Pump Assaulted

48-year-old Michael Mason has been identified as the man who repeatedly shot a gas pump at a Sunoco station Saturday in Naugatuck, Connecticut. He then fled the scene and crashed his car twice before stopping, according to police. Mason is in a hospital recovering from injuries received in the second crash.

When his condition improves, police expect to charge Mason with first-degree reckless endangerment, having weapons in a motor vehicle, first-degree criminal mischief, unlawful discharge of a firearm, reckless driving and evading responsibility.

Police Seek Speeding Muppet

Police in Germany are looking for the driver of an Audi that was caught on several cameras breaking the speed limit. The "driver" as seen in photographs is clearly a Muppet! The Muppet was identified as Animal, the drummer on The Muppet Show. Only after closer examination did the authorities in Bavaria realize that the car is a British vehicle with the steering wheel on the right side. German traffic cameras are aimed at the left side of the vehicle, so the actual driver was not in focus.

Reluctant Groom Sets Hotel on Fire

A man in Japan was arrested on suspicion of arson when the hotel he was scheduled to get married in was set on fire. No one was injured in the early morning fire at a resort hotel in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Tatsuhiko Kawata, 39, had gone along with wedding plans despite already having a wife, the Yomiuri newspaper said.

"I thought if I set a fire I wouldn't have to go through with the wedding," the Yomiuri quoted him as telling police.

Dog Risks Life for Kittens

150leo.jpgA dog named Leo stayed behind in a burning home in Melbourne, Australia, to guard a box of kittens. Four family members and one dog escaped the fire, but Leo stayed behind until firefighters went back in to retrieve him and the kittens. Leo was unconscious, but firefighters revived, according to Fire Department Commander Ken Brown.
He said Leo licked the kittens with joy when he saw them. "It was a wonderful sight," he said.
The kittens were unharmed because a cover on their box stopped them suffering smoke inhalation.

The kittens' mother Sabrina had disappeared and was unavailable for comment.

Man's Arm Trapped in Train Toilet

A 26-year-old man dropped his phone into a toilet on a French train and reached in to retrieve it. His arm became stuck, and firemen worked for two hours to rescue him! They eventually had to saw the toilet from its mooring. The unnamed man was carried off the train in a stretcher and taken to the hospital with the toilet still attached to his arm.

Wallabies Terrorize Senior Citizens

150Wallabies.jpgResidents of Carlyle Gardens, a retirement village in Townsville, Queensland, Australia are staying inside due to a horde of wallabies. Around 100 wallabies bounce around the compound, crashing into walls, each other, and the people who live there. Residents are also afraid of slipping on wallaby feces. North Queensland Wildlife Care is attempting to relocate the wallabies away from residential areas, and have moved twenty of the animals so far.

Preacher Arrested on Heroin Charges

59-year-old Robert McQueen is the pastor of Burning Bush Missionary Baptist Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He also owns McQ Bail Bonds. McQueen was arrested Tuesday night in a drug raid and charged with 21 counts of trafficking in heroin. A police informant had been recruited to buy heroin from the man known as "Preacher". The informant made quite a few buys, but on Sundays had to wait until church services were over. McQueen's bond was set at $45,000.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]