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The Weird Week in Review

Drunk Man Found Sleeping in Plane Engine

At the the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, an engineering team was preparing an Indian Airlines Airbus A-320 for takeoff when one of the crew spotted a leg dangling from an engine! A young man was found asleep inside the engine. He told airport security that he'd been sleepy and chose the engine as a place to lie down. The plane was only two hours from taking off on a flight to Raipur. Alcohol is believed to have been involved.

Fallen Fish is Dented, but Good Luck

A unnamed man in Melbourne, Florida was driving a truck when a fish fell out of the sky and landed on his windshield. He stopped the truck, retrieved the fish, and took it into the sushi restaurant he just left. A splash of water revived the fish. But instead of making sushi out of him, he was honored with a place in the restaurant's aquarium as a good luck charm. He had a dent in his head, which may have resulted from its crash into the windshield.

Danger is his middle name. And hers, too.

Billie Lampard will always be able to tell people that Danger is her middle name. And so will her brother. Their parents Amy and Glenn Lampard of East Melbourne, Australia named the newborn twins Billie Danger and Ridley Danger.

"I've always wanted to be able to say it myself," Mr Lampard said.

"We're actually enjoying calling them the 'Danger Twins' at the moment. It's a bit of a novelty."

The parents say family and friends have mixed reactions to the names.

Suspect on the Run Jumps Fence Into Prison

Police in Garfeild Heights, Ohio began chasing a car when the driver failed to signal and then failed to pull over. The chase reached 90 miles an hour and went through several communities. The car eventually stopped and four men jumped out. Two were captured when they ran down a dead-end alley. One was tasered when he tried to jump a fence. The driver, 20-year-old Ricky Flowers, scaled the fence only to find himself inside the grounds of a women's prison! An alarm went off and police arrested Flowers. All four men face a variety of charges.

He Says He's Not The Messiah

Author and food activist Raj Patel says he is not the Messiah. But after his appearance on the TV show The Colbert Report, he found himself to be an object of worship for a religious sect. Patel only wanted to plug his latest book called The Value of Nothing. A small religious group called Share International recognized the prophesies of their leader, Benjamin Creme, in Patel's background. Patel has issued a denial of holiness on his website,  where he compares his situation to the Monty Python movie The Life of Brian. Followers have traveled thousands of miles to see him.

Manure Pool Spawns Giant Bubbles

You think you have troubles at work? Dairy farmer Tony Goltstein of Winchester, Indiana has methane bubbles rising up to twenty feet tall, full of gas released by decomposing cow manure. Since wholesale prices of dairy products has plummeted, he cannot afford to properly maintain the manure lagoon. Replacing the plastic liner would cost around $200,000, and Goltstein is afraid the lagoon will overflow if the bubbles under the plastic continue to rise.

This month, Mr. Goltstein asked state regulators to let him pop the bubbles. He said he and his 19-year-old son would slice them open with a knife from a paddleboat.

Bruce Palin, assistant commissioner for the office of land quality at the state environmental agency, said officials were considering the idea. But, he added, "not knowing how much volume of gas is there and how much pressure is on it, we're concerned with just cutting a hole."

Last year, a hog farmer in Hayfield, Minn., was launched 40 feet into the air in an explosion caused by methane gas from a manure pit on his farm. He sustained burns and singed hair.

Tony the Tiger Rescued from Moat

An elderly Siberian tiger named Tony went into a dry moat bordering his territory at the San Francisco Zoo. No one knew why Tony stayed in the moat, but a recent exam had found signs of senility in the tiger. After four days, zoo authorities wanted him out of the moat as excrement was piling up. The 360-pound cat was shot with a tranquilizer gun and then strapped to a stretcher and hauled out by pulley, with the help of local firefighters.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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!

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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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