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The Weird Week in Review

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Anti-litter Leaflets Dumped in Street

Matt Taylor of Walthamstow Village, England found boxes containing was he assumed was rubbish on the street near his home. Leaving boxes of litter on the road could lead to a fine of  £50,000 fine or five years in prison. The boxes contained leaflets issued by the local council to educate the public about illegal dumping and littering! Cabinet member Bob Belam said the boxes were left as part of the planned distribution program, which meant leaflets against litter would eventually be left at each household. In other areas of the world, government leaflets would be considered litter whether they were left in torn boxes or at homes.

770-pound Ray Caught

Ian Welch of Hampshire, England caught the biggest freshwater fish ever caught with a rod. The 770-pound ray was pulled out of the Maeklong River in Thailand. The fish was seven feet wide and had a ten foot tail. It took 13 men to lift the ray out of the water. The catch was weighted, photographed, tagged, and released. A DNA sample was taken also. Welch is a biologist, and was in Thailand working with a project to tag stingrays.

Man Saves Lives, Gets Ticket

58-year-old Jim Moffett and another man were helping two elderly women cross the street in Denver last Friday night after they get off the bus he was driving. As a pickup truck slid on the snowy road, Moffett pushed the three other people out of the way. The pickup hit Moffett, who was taken to a hospital, where he was listed in serious condition on Wednesday. Colorado State Police issued citations to Moffet and the other man for jaywalking! Police said that despite Moffett's good intentions, jaywalking contributed to the incident.

Giant White Rabbit Leads Police Chase

120whiterabbit.pngPolice in Canterbury, England chased a 20-pound white rabbit through the streets for 20 minutes Sunday. Officers Matt Jackson and Yasmin Mossadegh of Kent Police had to enlist the help of eight bystanders. In a scene reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, the ten people finally corralled the albino bunny. The rabbit is in the care of Barton Veterinary Hospital, and has been nicknamed Tiny. Officials don't know where the rabbit came from, but he is presumed to be someone's pet.

Bungee Cord Breaks

49-year-old Mark Afforde couldn't resist a second bungee jump from the 200-foot high Canyon Creek Bridge near Yacolt, Washington. At the bottom of the drop, the bungee cord snapped, and he fell the last 25 feet into shallow water.

"I heard and saw the snap. I definitely felt the impact, and I was underwater. Once I checked and made certain I could still move and everything was working I felt I needed to get out of the water.

He was able to walk to shore, and paramedics took him to Southwest Washington Medical Center in Vancouver.

Afforde, who was not seriously injured, says he would bungee jump again. His wife feels differently.

Komodo Dragon Attacks Ranger

150_kimodo.jpgPark Ranger Main was sitting in his office on the island of Rinca in Indonesia when a komodo dragon came in and attacked him! He wrestled with the dragon, then climbed out a window. Office workers beat the animal with sticks to get it out of the building. Main required 30 stitches to repair lacerations on his hand and foot.

Nothing like this has ever happened to me... in 25 years on the job. I've never been attacked.

Death Ruled Suspicious When Bullet Holes Found

When 49-year-old Anthony Crockett was found dead in his Kansas City home, paramedics also found medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol. They thought he died of his ailments and no investigation was initiated. The embalmer, however, discovered the man had bullet holes in his head! The medical examiner then changed the  cause of death to homicide. Neither medical examiners nor police had inspected Crockett's body before it was removed from his home.

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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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