CLOSE
Original image

The Weird Week in Review

Original image

Dutch Moon Rock is Fake

A former prime minister of the Netherlands received an Apollo 11 moon rock as a gift from U.S. ambassador J. William Middendorf in 1969. After the death of Willem Drees in 1998 the rock went to the Dutch National Museum in Amsterdam. In 2006, a space expert saw the stone on display and questioned the museum about the rock. An investigation revealed the rock was not from the moon after all. The museum called NASA and confirmed that moon rocks were not given away in 1969, and any rocks given away were from later Apollo missions. Middendorf, now living in Rhode Island, said he received the rock from the US State Department, but couldn't remember the details.

Legless Turtle Walks Again

Lucky is a turtle living in Petaluma, California. On July 31st, Lucky was attacked by what his owner Sally Pyne believes was a raccoon. A veterinarian amputated what was left of Lucky's front  legs. But Lucky can walk again, since the vet put plastic chair sliders under the front of his shell, allowing his back legs to push him along without catching his shell against the ground.

130 Miles in a Wheelchair to Propose

An unnamed 67-year-old man traveled 130 miles over four days in his wheelchair to propose to a 66-year-old widow. He went from Minden to Salzwedel in Germany propelling himself with his arms as the wheelchair was not motorized. The woman rejected his offer of marriage, and he set out for home. On the way, he was hungry and decided to help himself to corn from a field, but his chair went into a rut and overturned. He called for help on his cell phone and was rescued by police. The man then refused a ride home, preferring to continue with his wheelchair.

Live Turkeys Stuffed with Cocaine

150turkeysOfficials acting on a tip searched a bus in Tarapoto, Peru for cocaine. They had been alerted that the cocaine was in a crate of turkeys, but they didn't see any. However, the two live turkeys appeared bloated. Police chief Otero Gonzalez said the turkeys a seam under the wings showed that the birds had been surgically implanted. A veterinarian removed over four pounds of cocaine in capsules from one turkey, and over six pounds from the other. The turkeys survived the surgery and are recovering.

Bridge Smeared with Butter to Stop Suicides

Officials in Guangzhou, China were tired of traffic jams caused by drivers slowing down to watch suicides on a steel highway bridge. In one month there were eight deaths and numerous others who changed their minds after climbing the bridge. Guards and signs were posted, but that didn't discourage those who wanted to jump. Then they ordered workers to smear the bridge with butter to discourage those who would leap off the 1,000-foot-long bridge to their death. The butter makes it difficult for would-be suicides to climb to a jumping point. So far, the bizarre plan is working.

Flintstones Wedding

150flintstoneweddingTwo couples from Norfolk, England got married in a double wedding dressed as characters from the TV show The Flintstones! Andrea and Simon Bean dressed as Fred and Wilma Flintstone, and Richard and Jill Noble were Barney and Betty Rubble as they took their vows at Weston Park Golf Club. The guests also dressed as cavemen and cavewomen. The processional began as the traditional Wagner, then switched to the Flintstones theme. All of the participants had been married before and felt no need for a tradition wedding. In lieu of gifts, the couples received donations for the Children's Liver Disease Foundation.

Appendix Ruptures a Month After Removal

Mark Wattson of Swindon, England was diagnosed with a ruptured appendix in August. He thought the doctors must have made a mistake, since his appendix had been removed in July! Nevertheless, his appendix was removed in a second surgery. Wattson endured an infection from the second surgery and spent several days in the hospital fighting it. His employers did not believe his story of two appendectomies and fired him. Wattson is considering taking legal action against the hospital. He wants to know what they took out during the first surgery.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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
Opening Ceremony
fun
arrow
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES