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The Weird Week in Review

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Fugitive Busted After Making Cop His Facebook Friend

Max Sopo was a fugitive from Seattle wanted on fraud charges. He was missing for several months when a Secret Service agent found he had a Facebook page! The page was private, but the investigation found that Sopo had a Facebook friend listed who was a former Justice Department official. The official didn't know Sopo's background, but was able to help agents access the account and trace him to Cancun, Mexico. Sopo was arrested and is awaiting extradition.

Escaped Balloon Did Not Carry Boy

Thursday afternoon, an experimental homemade weather balloon slipped from its tethers in Colorado. Authorities and news media chased the the balloon as it drifted for two hours, thinking that 6-year-old Falcon Heene was carried away with it. When the balloon landed 90 miles away, there was no child aboard. Falcon was later found hiding in his home. The family, who once appeared on the TV show Wife Swap, later appeared on Larry King Live. When asked why he didn't respond when he heard people calling his name, Falcon replied, "You guys said we did this for the show."

Man Gets Probation for Stabbing Fish

Donald Earl Fite III of Portland, Oregon was sentenced for an incident of domestic violence. He had approached Sarah Harris about their recent breakup, but she refused to take him back. Fite became violent with Harris, who escaped her apartment and called 911. When she returned with police, she found Fite had impaled her purple betta fish with a knife and left it sticking to the floor.

Fite admitted to police that he killed the betta, saying, "If she can't have me, then she can't have the fish."

Fite was sentenced to two years probation and a psychiatric evaluation.

Rare Goat-Sheep Rustled

The rare Schwarzhalsziegen goat looks like the front half of a goat and the back half of a sheep. There are only a few hundred in existence. An undisclosed number of goats were stolen in Dillenburg, Germany by someone in a Volkswagen hatchback. A police spokesman said,
"They will find them almost impossible to sell on because every single one of them is accounted for around the world."

Toddler Escapes from Toddler Escape

18-month-old Carter Powell walked out of a daycare center in Billings, Montana, and was rescued from traffic by a passing motorist. Police contacted his mother, Julie Powell, who became angry that she was not contacted by the drop-in daycare center. Police checked the facility out and concluded it was safe and that the incident was a fluke. The name of the daycare center is Toddler Escape Drop-In Child Care. Despite the name, the president of the business said this had never happened before.

Champion with a Popeye Forearm

22-year-old Matthias Schlitte has been a competitive arm-wrestler since he was 16. He has won a string of competitions in his native Germany, including the Iron Curtain Armwars in Blackburn and the German Championships in Haltern. A closer look makes it clear that Schlitte only wrestles with his right arm, which is twice the size of his left arm! His Popeye-like right arm measures almost 18 inches around.

No One Wanted to Claim Rocket Launcher

Jarrette Schule found a missilie launcher in his backyard in rural Comal County, Texas on Tuesday. He took it in his house, then began calling authorities to report it. He called the FBI, the sheriff's department, military police, and Homeland Security. Schule said no one wanted to take responsibility for the weapon. Nineteen hours later, a criminal investigator from the Army arrived. Three hours after that, an Army ordinance disposal team retrieved the weapon. There is still no word on how it got to Schule's yard.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]