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The Weird Week in Review

Fake Cop Arrested by Fake Prostitute

A police detective in Detroit was posing as a prostitute in a sting operation Wednesday. While she was talking to a man on the street, another man pulled up in a vehicle and flashed a badge. He followed the undercover detective, yelling to her that he was a cop. She replied that she was a cop, too, and he sped off. A nearby team of police officers from the Wayne County Sheriff's department stopped the car and found a Detroit Police Department badge, police clothing, and a gun. The unnamed man was arrested on charges of impersonating a police officer.

Ski Resort Closed Due to Snow

CairnGorm Mountain ski resort in the highlands of Scotland was having the best winter skiing season ever, until this past week when the resort had to close because of snow! Operations manager Colin Matthew said 15-foot snow drifts blocked the roads.

"We had to contract in huge 17-tonne caterpillar earth-movers," Mr Matthew added.

"They have spent two days now working about 18 hours a day trying to clear the roads.

"We have got a single-track road up to our car park and we have to get snow-blowers in to widen the roads and make it two-way traffic before we get the public up."

Driver Shoots His Way Out Of Submerged Car

An unnamed 28-year-old man was driving over a bridge in Roseville, California when his phone activated and startled him. He drove his station wagon into Pleasant Grove Creek, where it sank six to eight feet under water. He escaped by using his handgun to shoot out a window and swim to the surface. The man flagged down a passing car. An emergency crew treated him for cuts and scratches.

Couple Separated by Weather Finally Reunited

John and Kay Ure live in a former lighthouse keeper's cottage at the edge of a cliff on the coast of northern Scotland. On December 19th, Kay Ure left to go buy a Christmas turkey in Inverness. Before she could return, a snowstorm blocked the road and she had to stay in the village of Durness, eleven miles from home. Days turned into weeks, and John Ure spent Christmas, New Years Day, and his birthday alone for the first time in 35 years. He was down to emergency rations when finally, on January 18th, Ure was able to negotiate the unpaved road that had been covered with ice, then cross the water by boat to retrieve his wife. He said reuniting with his wife was like a "second honeymoon".

Kitten Rescued by Champion Climber

A kitten was stuck on a concrete ledge high above the ground in Spokane, Washington. 60-year-old Kay Leclaire passed by jogging and heard the cat cry for help. So she decided to climb up and get him. The trapped kitten lucked out, since Leclaire is a champion climber who has scaled Mount Everest and holds a record as the oldest woman to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents. The kitten was adopted almost immediately after his rescue.

Windpipe Transplanted Twice in Same Patient

Linda De Croock was injured in a traffic accident 25 years ago that left her with a crushed windpipe. Since then, her throat has been held open by metal stents until a new procedure in organ transplant gave her a new trachea. Dr. Pierre Delaere and his team at the University Hospital in Leuven, Belgium transplanted a windpipe from a cadaver into De Croock's forearm to acclimate the patient to the new organ. Her tissue grew over the cartilage of the windpipe. They moved the trachea to her throat after several months. This technique meant that De Croock did not have to take anti-rejection drugs, which many organ recipients need for the rest of their lives.

Laurel and Hardy Face Drug Charges

Police in Kingston, Pennsylvania arrested Laurel and Hardy after they delivered 50 bags of cocaine to a home. Hardy was also found to have ten bags of marijuana in his possession. 31-year-old Carlos Laurel and 39-year-old Andre "Sug" Hardy were held at the Luzerne County Jail on several felony drug charges. Hardy is also charged with parole violation and Laurel with probation violation.

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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