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The Weekend Links

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A sundry of spooky links this week: we begin with the curious case of Mary Roff and Lurancy Vennum. From Merinda, "Short version is ... Mary Roff was crazy and died. Fifteen years after she died Lurancy Vennum went into a trance and when she woke up she claimed she was Mary Roff and was so convincing everyone believed it. She stayed 'Mary Roff' for a few months until Lurancy came back and went on to live a normal life."
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Last week I featured a link to some terrible Halloween costumes - but here are some that might actually be fun ideas (Thanks Andi), and a few more that are definitely topical!
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So there's this guy who shoots anvils 100 feet into the air. Yeah. I am not one of those women he mentions who asks why he does it, I'm one who exclaims "THAT'S. AWESOME."
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Local (and national news) at its finest: a fabulous list of Caption Fails.
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Say hello to flu season in style with these 10 Swanky Swine Flu Masks
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Wikipedia does many things right (probably not as many as we would like to think), but it does a few things wrong ... in particular, 5 searches that, for populist reasons, should reconsider the first source you are directed to!
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Celebrity yearbook photos remind us that before all the plastic surgery and money for hair and clothes that deep down, they're just like us (right?). Well the same goes for these political figures, too.
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In case you were wondering what kind of space exploration we've done in the past 50 years, here's a handy (and beautiful) map. Speaking of maps, here's another unusual but fantastic rendering of Europe, 1914.

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It's raining cats and dogs as I am preparing the Weekend Links, so here are two apropos offerings about each: First, cats in wigs (yes, seriously, this is probably why the internet was invented), and dogs with the best in home architecture.
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From the Annals of Too Much Time: "This is a video montage of every single Cosmo Kramer entrance in Seinfeld history, and it will hypnotize you into a dream-like state within 1 minute. It's really quite impressive how his slide/twitch move progressed over the years."
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More spooky fun: 10 of the Creepiest Art Toys
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From Jan, "I know Mental Floss mentioned this last week, but don't remember if there was a link to these great pictures." So without further ado ... here they are: Celebration of the Reunification of Berlin (how freaking creepy are those gigantic marionettes??)
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I see you, gecko! Though admittedly, not at first. "A mossy leaf-tailed gecko is almost invisible while resting on a lichen-covered sapling in the eastern forests of Madagascar. This is one of the most dramatic examples of crypsis that we have ever photographed."
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Don Draper would be proud (perhaps) at the staying power of these 10 Food Mascots.
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From top-notch links-finder Sarah (this is but one of her many contributions this week) comes an interesting and uplifting tale of a Cub Scout who saved his teacher from choking.
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Great Photoshop skills can do more than just create silly pictures or make you look not SO disastrous from that one wild night, but it can also do great things like helping to find missing kids.
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And if all this wasn't enough for you, here are 50 Kick-Ass Websites You Need to Know About.

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Thanks as always to everyone who sent in links this week - keep it up! Send all finds to FlossyLinks@gmail.com, and have a great weekend!

[Last Weekend's Links]

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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
entertainment
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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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