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The Weird Week in Review

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Collect $4 Million; Go Directly to Jail

Barry Shell of Brampton, Ontario could call it his lucky day -or his unlucky day. He won $4.4 million dollars in the Canadian Lotto drawing July 18th. Monday, he went to pick up his winnings at the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation. When he walked out of the building, he was arrested on the spot on a six-year-old warrant for theft under $5,000. Lottery officials say all winners are checked out for warrants. At least he was able to raise the bail.

Baffling Toilet Signs

New signs for a public loo in Winchcombe, England have people scratching their heads. The infographic resembles a cross-country skier, or a man on an escalator. The words "ambulant urinal" convey the idea of a urinal that walks.
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Chris Pike of the Tewkesbury Borough Council says "ambulant" restrooms are larger than standard, and are "intended for people who may be partially disabled but cannot access the full disabled unit."

Girl Hit by Plummeting Tortoise Loses Memory

12-year-old Cheng Cheng of Chongqing, China was walking along the street when she was hit on the head by a falling tortoise. Cheng was taken to a hospital where she was diagnosed with a concussion and amnesia. The tortoise survived the fall and laid eggs later, but eventually died from wounds suffered in the fall. Authorities are not sure how far the animal fell, since no one living in the building will admit throwing, or even owning, a tortoise. The tortoise has been frozen as evidence.

Modern-day Cinderella Offers Reward for Shoe

150_shoe37-year old Louise Bawn of Bristol, England was out for a night on the town and had changed her high heels for flats to relieve her aching feet. At home, she realized one shoe was missing from her purse. The £400 pair of Christian Louboutin shoes had been a gift from her husband. Brawn said she would go to any lengths to get the shoe back, and has retraced her steps, handed out flyers, and offered a reward for the safe return of the missing shoe. She has even places a classified ad with a picture of the shoe's mate. A later story revealed that Bawn owns over 100 pairs of shoes.

Heavy Metal Cure for Constipation

48-year old Viorel Firoiu of Orlea, Romania, admits he was drunk when he tried to cure his constipation by sticking a hammer in his rectum. He went to a hospital where x-rays revealed not one, but two hammerheads inside! Firoiu said the constipation was caused by cherries he ate. Then he drank a few to relieve the pain, then when the first hammerhead came off the handle, he used a second hammer to retrieve the first! The second hammerhead also came off its handle. The two hammerheads had to be removed surgically.

Surgery and Lawsuit for Five-legged Puppy

150_5leggedpuppyCalvin Owensby of Gastonia, North Carolina found a puppy with an extra leg in his dog's latest litter. He contracted with a New York freak show owner, John Strong, to sell the puppy for $3,000. Word got out and Allyson Siegel of Charlotte offered $4,000 to keep the puppy out of the show (the $3,000 price plus Strong's $1,000 deposit). Owensby agreed, and Strong threatened to sue Owensby for breach of contract if he didn't receive the puppy. Meanwhile, Siegel had the puppy's non-functioning fifth leg removed at a veterinary hospital on Thursday. Whether Strong will pursue the lawsuit at this point is unknown.

Land Mine Left in Goodwill Box

Goodwill employees in Arvada, Colorado emptied a donation box on Tuesday and found an olive-green box with the words "Front Toward Enemy". It was a land mine! The shopping center that houses the Goodwill store was evacuated.

Arvada police say the Claymore land mine didn't go off in the donation box and no one was hurt. A bomb squad disposed of the device.

Police Sgt. Jeff Monzingo says it's unclear whether the device was operational or where it came from. No suspects have been identified.

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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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