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The Weird Week in Review

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Drunk Driving a Barstool

28-year-old Kile Wygle of Newark, Ohio was arrested for drunk driing -on a barstool! The barstool on wheels was powered by a lawn mower engine. Wygle crashed the homemade vehicle and called 911 due to his injuries. Police responded and gave Wygle a series of sobriety tests, which he failed. The barstool was not impounded.

Lacy Lingerie Helps Find North Pole

When you approach the North Pole, compasses don't work properly because the difference between the geographic pole and the magnetic pole are more pronounced than elsewhere. So the Catlin Arctic Survey, currently en route to the pole to measure the Arctic Ice Cap, are having to use alternate methods of navigation. To measure wind direction, they are using a pair of lacy panties! Veteran explorer Pen Hadow said,
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"It an entirely genuine situation. If you can get gossamer thin material and attach it your ski pole it is particularly useful for this project because we can cannot use the compass as we are so close to magnetic north and it is too cold to use the GPS.
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The panties were donated by a friend of the expedition.

Man Sleeps at Work, Wakes Up in Boston

21-year-old Sidney Nurse dozed off while handling baggage at his job with JetBlue on Monday. That was at JFK airport in New York. The next thing Nurse knew, he was airborne in the plane's cargo hold! He called the airline on his cellphone to let them know where he was. The hold was pressurized, so Nurse survived to tell the tale when the baggage was unloaded in Boston. A medical team checked him out and said he was fine, so he flew back to New York -this time in the passenger section.

12-foot Pothole

150pothole.jpgA driver in the Ukraine slowly drove his car over what he thought was a water puddle when his Volkswagen dived into a 12-foot crater! The unnamed driver had to smash his rear window to escape before water filled the vehicle. Workers drained the water from the hole, which was caused by a broken water main, to reveal extensive damage to the car.

Woman Locked in Car Calls 911

It sounds like an old joke, but this really happened in Kissimmee, Florida. A woman called 911 because she was locked in her car and couldn't get out. The dispatcher instructed the woman to pull the lock button up manually, which saved the day. Hear the 911 call here.

Man Swallows Scissors

150scissors.jpgInstead of using a toothpick, 27-year old Lin Kong of Putian, China borrowed some nail scissors to pick his teeth. As dinner companions told jokes, Lin laughed and swallowed the 4-inch scissors! The scissors opened slightly and the sharp points dug into his throat. Surgeons were able to remove the scissors while using local anesthesia.

Fiancé Drops Engagement Ring Off Brooklyn Bridge

Don Walling proposed to his girlfriend, Gina Pellicani on the pedestrian walkway of the Brooklyn Bridge when he dropped the diamond ring.

"I got on one knee, proposed and it just flew out," Walling said. "I watched it fall through the crack on the bridge, right between the wood planks."

The ring fell on the roadway below. Walling climbed down to the road in heavy traffic and found the ring, which was bent but repairable. Walling had assembled friends and family to witness the proposal, so the entire episode was caught on video.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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