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Live, Breaking News: Steve Wiebe Tries to Recapture Donkey Kong Record

Steve Wiebe, the hapless hero of the video game documentary King of Kong, is trying once again to beat Billy Mitchell's record on Donkey Kong. Why is this news? (After all, he's been going back and forth with Mitchell for years.) Well, it's news because Wiebe is doing it right now (mid-day Tuesday, June 2, 2009). You can watch Wiebe play Donkey Kong live right now! This morning, his first attempt ended at a respectable (but not record-breaking) 923,400 points. Reports suggest that we will make two more attempts today.

Update (1pm Pacific): Steve concluded his second attempt at only 653,700 points. I hear there's a third attempt happening later, but it's possible Wiebe is all Konged-out for today.

Update 2 (3pm Pacific): Steve's back! He's conferring with officials, and looks like he's about to start his third attempt.

Update 3 (3:30pm Pacific): In a dramatic twist, the machine failed in the middle of Steve's third attempt -- the screen turned green, and the live web feed was disconnected after an apparent power outage. After some fiddling (and invoking Billy Mitchell's name more than once), it appears that technicians are going to try to repair the machine. Some spectators are speculating that Wiebe may return for another attempt tomorrow. For what it's worth, Wiebe was in good form at the time, but was only thirty minutes into his game (around 150,000 points).

Update 4 (3:45pm Pacific): ...And he's back. For some reason lacking sound. But anyway, the fourth attempt is in progress.

Update 5 (5:50pm Pacific): Steve did not make the record. At 989,400 points he hit the kill screen.

More background information on Steve Wiebe and his quest to be the recognized Donkey Kong master comes from Slashfilm:

Wiebe lived a quiet life in Washington until he lost his job at Boeing and found solace in his video game obsession, "Donkey Kong." At the time, Billy Mitchell, a hot sauce mogul and an icon in the world of competitive gaming, held the record for the highest "Donkey Kong" score, and Wiebe made it his mission to break that record. He not only perfected his game but surpassed Mitchell's record and ended up with a thought-to-be-impossible 1,000,000 points. A wave of media coverage followed and Wiebe quickly became a celebrity in his hometown of Seattle. Meanwhile, Mitchell hatched a plan to reclaim his fallen "Donkey Kong" record and, in the months that followed, Wiebe and Mitchell engaged in a cross-country duel to see who could set the high score and become the real "King of Kong."

... Since the documentary and the loss of his title to Mitchell in 2007, Wiebe has attempted to break the record four other times but to no avail. With his latest attempt in October 2008, he scored 1,000,200, which is only the second time that a million point score has been achieved in public but it was still not enough to knock off Mitchell. Now, as he gears up for his fifth effort, fans can witness live what Wiebe hopes will be his sweet revenge and gaming history.

This could be it, folks. Tune in! If you get bored, read up on the history of this classic videogaming struggle.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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
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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