CLOSE
Original image

The Weird Week in Review

Original image

You Can't Fire Me Because I'm Drunk!

The highest court in Peru has ruled that the town of Chorrillos must reinstate Pablo Cayo as a janitor. The municipality had fired Cayo for being intoxicated on the job. The court said that the firing was excessive because Cayo did not offend anyone or hurt anyone. Local and federal officials are protesting because the ruling may set a dangerous precedent for future employees.

Cat Evicted from Post Office for Not Paying Taxes

A cat named Sammy was usually seen lounging in the window of the post office in Notasulga, Alabama until someone complained.
*
"They said 'This is a federal building and he doesn't pay federal taxes so he can't come in'," said postal worker Rochelle Langford.
*
But Sammy's supporters think they have found a way around the banishment. They have rented a post office box in his name!

Worker Shoots Himself Without a Gun

Howard Sheppard of Deltona, Florida went to a hospital with a gunshot wound in his arm. His first story was that a bullet discharged when he picked up a handful of ammunition. His second story was that the ammunition was on a shelf and may have discharged when he threw a hammer and a string trimmer on the shelf. His third story is that he had set the bullet in a vice, set a metal punch into the cartridge primer, and hit it with a hammer.

Snowplow Unknowingly Drags Car A Half Mile

150snowplow.pngA snowplow operator in Colorado City didn't realize he'd been in a traffic accident. He also didn't realize that the car that hit him was still attached until other drivers flagged him down! 70-year-old John Archuleta rear-ended the snowplow Monday morning and his car became entangled in the snowplow's sanding mechanism. Snowplow operator Fredrick Parrent, Jr didn't feel the impact and continued driving for about half a mile. No one was injured in the incident, but Archuleta was cited for careless driving.

Hearse Loses Wheels in Funeral Procession

A funeral procession in Hampshire, England was halted when the wheels fell off of the horse-drawn hearse. Officials believe the horse may have slipped on black ice, causing the hearse to swerve. The coffin, en route to Portchester Crematorium, was transferred to a motor hearse.

Best Job in the World Offered; Applicants Crash Website

150bestjob.jpgQueensland, Australia posted a website with an offer for what they called "The Best Job in the World". They are searching for someone to live on an island in the Great Barrier Reef for six months, enjoy the attractions, and keep a blog about the islands. Hundreds of thousands of applicants in the first few days caused the website to crash, and parts of the site are still out of commission.

107-year-old Seeks First Husband

Wang Guiying of Chongqing, China is 107 years old and has never married. Despite having bound feet, she made her living as a farmer until she was 74 years old, when she moved in with a nephew.

Born in southern Guizhou province the child of a salt merchant, Wang grew up watching her uncles and other men scold and beat their wives and often found her aunt crying in the woodshed after an attack, the paper said.

"All the married people around there lived like that. Getting married was too frightening," she said of an era when Chinese women had few rights and low social standing.

As her nieces and nephews are becoming too old to take care of her, Wang has decided she is ready to take the plunge. Local officials advice her family to contact old people's homes to find a match.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
arrow
Health
One Bite From This Tick Can Make You Allergic to Meat
Original image
iStock

We like to believe that there’s no such thing as a bad organism, that every creature must have its place in the world. But ticks are really making that difficult. As if Lyme disease wasn't bad enough, scientists say some ticks carry a pathogen that causes a sudden and dangerous allergy to meat. Yes, meat.

The Lone Star tick (Amblyomma americanum) mostly looks like your average tick, with a tiny head and a big fat behind, except the adult female has a Texas-shaped spot on its back—thus the name.

Unlike other American ticks, the Lone Star feeds on humans at every stage of its life cycle. Even the larvae want our blood. You can’t get Lyme disease from the Lone Star tick, but you can get something even more mysterious: the inability to safely consume a bacon cheeseburger.

"The weird thing about [this reaction] is it can occur within three to 10 or 12 hours, so patients have no idea what prompted their allergic reactions," allergist Ronald Saff, of the Florida State University College of Medicine, told Business Insider.

What prompted them was STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness. People with STARI may develop a circular rash like the one commonly seen in Lyme disease. They may feel achy, fatigued, and fevered. And their next meal could make them very, very sick.

Saff now sees at least one patient per week with STARI and a sensitivity to galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose—more commonly known as alpha-gal—a sugar molecule found in mammal tissue like pork, beef, and lamb. Several hours after eating, patients’ immune systems overreact to alpha-gal, with symptoms ranging from an itchy rash to throat swelling.

Even worse, the more times a person is bitten, the more likely it becomes that they will develop this dangerous allergy.

The tick’s range currently covers the southern, eastern, and south-central U.S., but even that is changing. "We expect with warming temperatures, the tick is going to slowly make its way northward and westward and cause more problems than they're already causing," Saff said. We've already seen that occur with the deer ticks that cause Lyme disease, and 2017 is projected to be an especially bad year.

There’s so much we don’t understand about alpha-gal sensitivity. Scientists don’t know why it happens, how to treat it, or if it's permanent. All they can do is advise us to be vigilant and follow basic tick-avoidance practices.

[h/t Business Insider]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES