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The Weird Week in Review

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16 Arrested in Fight at Nonviolence Concert

Silver Spring, Maryland hosted a youth concert called Stop the Violence in memory of 14-year-old student Tai Lam, who was shot to death last year. Fighting broke out near the stage, and police arrested 16 adults and juveniles for disorderly conduct, assault, and resisting arrest.

St. Bernard Frozen in Place

The breed that normally rescues people in cold weather had to be rescued at the Peter Yegen Jr. Golf Club in Billings, Montana. A 16-month-old St. Bernard named Duke had fallen through the ice on a pond, climbed out, and sat down on the ice. His wet backside then froze to the ice, leaving him immobile. Firefighters donned dry suits to reach Duke and cut the ice around him. It took four men to lift the 118-pound dog and the chunk of ice still stuck to his tail. Duke was taken to an animal hospital, where he was fine after the ice was removed with the help of a blow dryer.

Traveler Rescued from Sewage Tank

An unidentified man was rescued from a waste tank under a rest stop bathroom on Highway 30 near Filer, Idaho on Thursday. He had climbed into the tank to look for his keys. Another driver found him and called emergency services. Police, firefighters, paramedics, and other emergency personnel responded, and found the man up to his neck in sewage. They summoned highway maintenance department workers, who retrieved the man by opening an access port used to remove waste. Filer Police Chief Cliff Johnson told the story to local news.

"It took some lifting to get him out, and he had cut himself pretty good trying to get himself out," Johnson said.

The man was allowed to wash off with the fire truck hose at the scene, where he made another painful discovery.

"That's when he discovered the keys were still in his back pocket," Johnson said.

Short Pony is Bane of Emergency Services

150_shorty.jpgPeople who see Shorty tend to call emergency services because they are convinced the poor pony is stuck in the mud. Four times Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service's animal rescue team responded, only to find that the pony was fine. Shorty is half Shetland pony and half New Forest pony. He has the long body of the New Forest breed and the very short legs of a Shetland, which lead passers-by to believe he is sinking in the mud on the banks of the river Test in Redbridge, Southampton, England.

First Time Golfer Gets Hole In One

62-year-old Unni Haskell played her first full round of golf February 25th in St. Petersburg, Florida. She had completed two months of lessons taken on the driving range with pro Rick Sopka. Sopka had planned a putting lesson for that day, but Haskell talked him into a round at nearby Cypress Links. Her very first swing on the first tee sent the ball onto the green and into the hole.

"I didn't know it was that big of a deal,'' she said. "I thought all golfers do this.''

Human Corpse Delivered to Pet Store

150bodydelivery.jpgEmployees at the Pets Plus Store in Philadelphia expected a shipment of tropical fish in salt water Tuesday, but when they opened the large box, they found a dead body instead! The body was that of a 65-year-old San Diego man who was supposed to be sent to a research lab in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The tropical fish were left at the airport.
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US Airways Inc. released a statement saying the air cargo problem was caused by a "verbal miscommunication between a delivery driver and the cargo representative." The Tempe, Ariz.-based airline said it's deeply sorry.

Monkey Takes Revenge on Owner

Leilit Janchoom of Nakorn Sri Thammarat province in Thailand used a monkey named Brother Kwan to climb trees and retrieve coconuts to sell. Brother Kwan reportedly found the work stressful and tedious, but was not allowed to stop. Last week, the monkey threw a hard-skinned coconut at Janchoom, which killed him instantly. Locals believe the monkey snapped under the harsh treatment and intended to kill his owner.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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