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The Weird Week in Review

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Stranger in the Garage

Homeowner Don Bain of Spokane, Washington says there's a woman living in his garage who he doesn't know, and he wants her out. Bain had granted permission for his stepson to live in the garage three months ago.

"He moved different people in, he had as high as eight people in here at different times and we told him no you stay there and no one else," Bain said.

A confrontation led to the stepson being jailed, but one woman continues to live in the garage. Police say they can't remove her because she had permission from the stepson to stay there. The woman doesn't pay rent or contribute to utilities. Bain has served her with an eviction notice.

Senior Prank Puts Furniture on Roofs

Wednesday morning, students and staff at Cypress Creek High School in Orlando, Florida arrived to find classroom furniture on the roofs of the school's buildings! Over a hundred desks and chairs were arranged on top of several portable buildings used for classes. Dozens of students may have been involved in the senior prank; thirteen have been disciplined. The furniture was removed from the roofs by 9:30 AM.

Pregnant Woman Hit by Car While Running from Bear

26-year-old Ashley Swendsen encountered a female black bear while hiking near Colorado Springs. The bear followed Swendsen, who is five months pregnant, and began chasing her when the woman started running. The bear got within ten feet of Swendsen when she reached Vincent Road. That's when an elderly woman struck Swendsen with her car! The mother-to-be was not seriously injured, but was taken to a hospital to be checked out. The driver left the scene before police arrived. Department of Wildlife officials found the bear, tranquilized it by dart gun, and later killed it.

Fluorescent Puppies

150puppy.jpgThe world's first transgenic dogs are a litter of four cloned beagles that glow red under ultraviolet light. A gene produced by sea anemones is responsible. The puppies were cloned by a team led by scientists at Seoul National University in South Korea. They used a virus to infect canine fibroblast cells with the glowing gene, then cloned cells to produce 344 embryos implanted into 20 dogs, producing seven pregnancies.

Saved by the Bra

An unnamed 57-year-old woman in Detroit owes her life to her bra. She witnessed a group of men breaking into a neighbor's house Tuesday morning. When they saw her, one of the men fired a shot at her. The bullet was deflected by the underwire in her bra! She was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The suspects fled and were not apprehended at the time.

84-year-old Beats Up Muggers

150ted.jpgTed Mazetier of Tacoma, Washington stopped to help what appeared to be stranded motorists Wednesday night. The two men jumped on Mazetier and punched him in the face. Mazetier, a World War II veteran and former prison guard, fought back. He kicked both men, one in the groin, the other in the belly. The two fled as soon as they could. A witness came to the 84-year-old man's aid and gave a description of the suspects to police. The two men were arrested and Mazetier is recovering from a black eye.

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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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