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The Weird Week in Review

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Cop in Charge of Drunk Driving Caught Driving Drunk

A deputy police inspector in Tokyo was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol on Monday. He had bumped another car and ran off the road. Local media identified the inspector as the officer in charge of a campaign against drunk driving that had involved police handing out stickers at bars and restaurants.

"It is inexcusable for a member of the police to have caused this case and we plan to deal with it strictly," Tsutomu Sato, the head of the National Public Safety Commission told reporters.

Two-faced Kitten Born in Perth

A kitten with two faces was born yesterday at a veterinary clinic in Perth, Australia. A newspaper photographer was at the clinic to shoot pictures of greyhounds when the birth occurred, and took the opportunity to snap pictures of the newborn kitten. The kitten's two mouths meow simultaneously, controlled by its single brain. It eats only from one mouth, as the other has a cleft palate.

Former Prisoner Settles in Lost Penis Case

The State of Washington will pay $300,000 to a man who lost his penis and one testicle to flesh-eating bacteria while in prison. 61-year-old Charlie Manning was incarcerated in 2004 and developed a rash that was first diagnosed as an allergic reaction. By the time he was diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria, surgeons had to remove several pounds of flesh in order to save Manning's life. Manning filed suit in 2007, and the settlement was reached in October.

World's Tallest Mohawk

150mohawk.jpgEric Hahn, a musician in Omaha, Nebraska, has the new Guinness World Record for the tallest mohawk hairdo. His locks stand 27 inches above his head, 3 inches taller than the previous record holder. Hahn donated the hair that was cut to produce the mohawk to Locks of Love, a charity that provides wigs to cancer patients who have lost their hair. Hahn's band also staged a concert last Friday to benefit Locks of Love and a local charity.

Hold the Toilet Handle Down

A 91-year-old woman in Jersey City, New Jersey was robbed by a man who impersonated a water company employee. He told her there was a water emergency, and instructed her to hold the handle of her toilet down or else the house would explode. The victim obeyed and held the handle for about two minutes. When she gave up and came out of the bathroom, the woman found that the man had ransacked her house and made off with $3,650 in cash.

Lost Cockatiel Identifies Owners by Phone

150cockatiel.jpgA lost cockatiel perched on passerby Sue Hill's shoulder in Wrexham, England. Once home, she phoned the local veterinarian to see if anyone had reported a missing bird. Someone had, and soon Hill was on the phone with Carole Edwards. Hill put the phone up to the cockatiel's ear and when he heard Edwards' voice, he spoke for the first time, saying his name Smokey.
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"It was so amusing. When she shouted 'Smokey' he just responded straight away. It was hysterical, and there was no doubt in my mind they were the owners."

Doctors Find Worm in Woman's Brain

Doctors in Phoenix, Arizona thought the worst when they saw the results of Rosemary Alvarez' MRI scan. She was taken into surgery to remove a tumor on her brain stem. Once they got inside, surgeons were surprised to see not a tumor, but a worm! Dr. Peter Nakaji even laughed when he saw what the problem was.

"I'm sure this is a very strange response for the people in the operating room," he told MyFOXPhoenix.com. "But because I was so pleased to know that it wasn't going to be something terrible."

The surgeons removed the worm, and Alvarez has recovered completely.

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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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