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The Weird Week in Review

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Rare Tiger has No Stripes

A six-month-old tiger cub at Cango Wildlife Ranch, near Cape Town, South Africa is the rarest of the rare -a white tiger with no stripes. Zookeepers weren't sure that the female cub named Fareeda was really stripeless until she reached six months of age, since young cubs sometimes grow into their stripes. Fareeda is the first white Bengal tiger to be born in captivity in South Africa. White Bengals are not albinos, but the result of a rare mutation that is passed genetically.

Burglar Bear Prefers Chocolates

A couple in San Bernardino County, California arrived at their home last week to find a bear rummaging through their refrigerator! The homeowners called authorities, but the bear left before sheriff's deputies arrived. The bear had bypassed nutritious vegetables in the refrigerator, but had eaten a two-pound box of chocolates. It had also tried in vain to open a bottle of champagne.

Excuse for Arson: Michael Jackson's Death

Amanda Jarvis of Lorain, Connecticut was arrested Sunday morning in connection with a fire started in ladies room of a local bar. After Jarvis reported the fire, the bartender checked surveillance video that pointed to Jarvis as the cause of the fire. She was found soon afterward at another bar.

When asked why she set the items on fire, she replied, "I felt stressed because my apartment had recently caught on fire, and because of the death of Michael Jackson".

Hippo Stuck in Water Tower

150hipponostrilsA hippopotamus in Alkmaar, South Africa was desperate for a dip to escape the heat, and climbed over ten foot walls to bathe in a water tower! Once in, he couldn't get out on his own. A farm worker spotted him -or rather, spotted two big nostrils poking out of the water. In a four-hour operation, a crew led by hippo hunter Chris Hobkirk drained the tank and enticed the hippo into a strong cage. The cage was then hauled out of the tank with a winch.

Drunk Carpentry Leads to Severed Penis

54-year-old Stuart Keen was performing a do-it-yourself project while intoxicated at his home in Wantage, England when he accidentally severed his penis with a saw. Doctors were able to reattach the organ. Mr. Stuart declined to make a statement, but his 84-year-old mother Edna said,

"I have spoken to him and he is quite embarrassed about the whole incident. I was in Somerset when it happened and got a call from the hospital.

"Stuart is a carpenter and uses sharp and sometimes dangerous tools.

"This was an unfortunate accident but these things happen all the time to people in his profession."

Students Go to Prom in Barbie Boxes

150_barbieboxesGoing to the prom in a limousine, a tank, or a helicopter is old hat, so two girls in England made a grand entrance of another kind -by having themselves wheeled into the event in 6-foot Barbie boxes. Sammy Burns and Megan Barton made the boxes from cardboard painted pink and completed the details with Barbie logos and bar codes. Relatives dressed as delivery men to wheel the two 16-year-olds into the Wyvern Technology College prom in Fair Oak, Hampshire, England. The boxes were equipped with fans to prevent overheating.

Build-A-Bear Toys Stuffed with Heroin

DEA agents raided a Build-A-Bear toy store in the Riverdale area of the Bronx Friday and found a heroin operation that moved the drug by hiding it inside the bears. Twelve people were arrested. Agents seized 33 pound of heroin, $150,000 in cash, and weapons.

"It's a huge shock," said Mario Amesqui, 54, who lives in the same building as one of the Riverdale apartments raided on Friday.

"My daughter has one of those toys. I'm very surprised something like that was going on right here and I'm especially surprised it was a Build-A-Bear."

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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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