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The Weird Week in Review

Floor Collapses at Swedish Weight Watchers Clinic

Around twenty weight-loss program participants were gathered for a weigh-in when the floor collapsed at the Weight Watchers clinic in Växjö, Sweden. No one was injured, so they took the scales and moved to a corridor to continue checking to see how much weight each had lost. The cause of the floor's collapse is under investigation.

Chimpanzee Investor Outperforms Russian Bankers

A Russian circus chimpanzee named Lusha picked stocks that tripled in value over a year's time. Lusha was presented with cubes representing 30 different stock options and selected eight to invest money in by picking the cubes. Her chosen portfolio outperformed 94% of Russian investment funds.

'She bought successfully and her portfolio grew almost three times. She did better than almost the whole of the rest of the market,' said editor of Russian Finance magazine Oleg Anisimov.

He questioned why so-called financial whizz-kids are still receiving hefty perks for their expertise .

'Everyone is shocked. What are they getting their bonuses for? Maybe it's worth sending them all to the circus.'

Balkan Hippo on the Loose

A female hippopotamus named Nikica swam out of her enclosure at a private zoo in Plavnica, Montenegro when flood waters rose over the fence. The two-ton hippo has remained close to the zoo, but cannot be rounded up until the flood recedes. Officials with the nation's natural disasters commission called for the hippo to be shot before she can endanger human lives, but zoo owner Dragan Pejovic says Nikica is not dangerous. Nikica had stayed close to the zoo, where she is being fed bread and hay outside the zoo's restaurant.

Traffic Reporter Crashes

If anyone should know how slick the roads are, it's a local traffic reporter. Bob Herzog, who reports on traffic for WKRC in Cincinnati, slid on the ice and drove his car against a house around noon last Thursday. Herzog was not injured, and the house sustained only minor damage. The TV station immediately responded to capture video, which became the most popular local story of the day.

Cat Called for Jury Duty

Sal Esposito of East Boston has been summoned for jury duty. He just might be excused for being a cat, but so far he is expected to serve. Sal's owners Guy and Anna Esposito think his name may have been pulled from census records, where he was listed as a pet. They asked that Sal be disqualified from service, but the jury commissioner denied Sal's excuse. It the matter is not straightened out, the cat will have to show up at Suffolk Superior Court on March 23 for his tour of duty.

Woman Keeps Pet Snowball For 33 Years

Prena Thomas of Lakeland, Florida has an unusual "pet" she keeps in her freezer -a snowball! She made the snowball in 1977 and has kept it frozen safe in a bread bag ever since. Thomas occasionally takes it out to show to friends.

Thomas said that over the decades, she has never had a power outage that would destroy the cold hunk she says is precious to her.

"It's just like a little pet," she said.

Industrial Grinder Frees Man

An unnamed man in Southampton, England went to the local hospital to get his penis removed from a metal pipe. Medical personnel were unable to get the pipe off, as the man's penis had swollen, so they gave him an anesthetic and called Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service. Firefighters carefully cut the pipe with a 4.5 inch industrial metal grinder. Hospital staff and the patient all held their breath during the delicate procedure, but the patient was freed without additional injury. The man was left bruised and swollen, but otherwise all right.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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
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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