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The Weird Week in Review

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Removing Spider Webs Leads to House Fire

Galen Winchell was cleaning the outside of his home in Sargent, Georgia when a fire broke out. Specifically, he was removing cobwebs with a blowtorch. The fire raced through the attic and was extinguished by the Coweta County Fire Department. The fire was limited to one end of the 1,400 square foot home, but smoke and water damaged the entire house. Coweta Fire Investigator James Gantt advised the public not to use a blowtorch to remove cobwebs.

73-year-old Scores in College Basketball

Ken Mink, a full-time student at Roane State Community College in Harriman, Tennessee, scored two points in a game Monday night against King College. The 73-year-old sunk two free throws in Roane State's 93-42 win. It was his first college game in 52 years. Mink had played for Lees College in Jackson, Kentucky when he was young, but was kicked off the team for soaping the coach's office. He insists he didn't do it.

Priest and Nuns Attack Restaurant Owner

Passers-by in Rutino, Italy called police after observing a brawl at a restaurant. The restauranteur had responded to a report of trouble and arrived to find a priest and two nuns demanding the return of the property, which is owned by the Catholic church.

"I came down to try to calm things down but the priest hit me with a chair and I ended up on the floor. Then the two sisters started kicking me, insulting me with unrepeatable words," the unnamed owner said in a statement.

The restauranteur was taken to the hospital with injuries on his head and abdomen.

Captain Fantastic

150captainfantastic.jpg19-year-old George Garratt of Glastonbury, England legally changed his name to -get this- Captain Fantastic Faster Than Superman Spiderman Batman Wolverine The Hulk And The Flash Combined. The change was made via deed poll through a website. He admits he did it for a laugh.
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"My family have begun to expect these sorts of things from me, and although my friends thought it was ridiculous most people do call me Captain and it's been a great conversation starter."

Runner Covers Mile with Rabid Fox on Arm

An unidentified Chino Valley, Arizona woman was jogging on a trail near Granite Mountain Monday when a fox attacked her. The animal bit her foot, and when she tried to grab it, bit her arm and held on. She ran a mile back to her car with the fox still attached. The jogger then pried the fox's jaws open, threw it in her trunk, and drove to a hospital. The fox also bit the animal control officer who removed it from the trunk. The animal tested positive for rabies, and both the woman and the animal control officer are being treated.

Stick Inducted into Toy Hall of Fame

150stick.jpgThe National Toy Hall of Fame in Rochester, New York has selected three inductees for this year: the baby doll, the skateboard, and the stick.
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Curators at the Rochester museum say the stick is a special addition. They praised its all-purpose, all-natural, no-cost qualities and its ability to serve either as raw material or an appendage transformed by imaginations into something else.

Victim Drives Sleeping Rapist to Police

22-year-old Vipul Sharma was found guilty of rape in Wellington, New Zealand. He had met the unidentified victim in an Auckland bar and drove her to a park where he raped her. He then had her drive while he fell asleep in the passenger seat. The victim promptly drove to the nearest police station, where Sharma was arrested.

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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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