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The Weird Week in Review

"Thelma Lou" is Victim of Robbery

Betty Lou Lynn is the actress who played Thelma Lou, deputy Barney Fife's girlfriend on the TV series The Andy Griffith Show. The 82-year-old retired actress moved from Los Angeles to Mt. Airy, North Carolina in 2007 in order to escape the crime of the big city. Mt. Airy is Andy Griffith's hometown, and was the model for Mayberry in the show. Last Sunday, Lynn became a crime victim after all when a man grabbed her wallet containing $130 in a shopping center. Police investigated and arrested Shirley Walter Guynn of Virginia. Guynn was lodged in the Surry County Jail. Only $43 of the money was recovered.

A Rare Fly-and-Run Accident

Ken and Carol Marcoux of Boulder, Colorado were parked on the side of a road to watch planes take off from the local airport. They saw a small plane approach, buffeted by the wind.

To the couple's horror, the plane -- whose pilot was later identified as Joe Curtis, 67, of Commerce City -- was pointed right at their car and approaching at what Marcoux estimated was 100 mph. Carol Marcoux screamed "Ken!" and her husband stepped on the gas, moving the Prius forward just enough to spare them a potentially fatal hit.

Carol Marcoux said she heard "a big sound of glass breaking" as the right wingtip of the plane slammed into the back of the car -- shattering the rear passenger window and denting the rear quarter panel -- just inches behind her head.

The plane stopped in a field. Pilot Joe Curtis jumped out, grabbed a mysterious bag, and ran away toward the airport! Curtis contacted the FAA about the accident hours later.

Roadside Assistance from an Elephant

Lawrence Bates, a zookeeper at West Midlands Safari Park in England, was set to leave an animal enclosure, but his jeep wouldn't start. As he began pushing, an elephant named Five gave the jeep a good shove to get it started again. For an encore, the elephant spray washed the vehicle with its trunk! Director Of Wildlife Bob Lawrence believes that Five may come in handy if a vehicle breakdown ever happens again at the park.

Runaway Boy Lived at Retail Store

A 15-year-old boy from Roseville, Michigan ran away from home and went to live at a Bed, Bath, & Beyond store. He managed to stay in the store four nights as employees locked up each day. The boy left the store in the morning and would return before closing time at night, hiding from employees so that they never knew he was there. When discovered, he was charged with larceny and truancy, and is undergoing a psychiatric examination at a juvenile facility.

Goose Picked the Right Garden

A Canada goose landed in a garden in Toms River, New Jersey with an illegal hunting arrow stuck through its chest. The garden happened to belong to retired veterinarian Bernard Levine. Dr. Levine captured the goose and removed the 26-inch arrow, including the six inches that was embedded in the bird's flesh. Levine also removed several air-rifle pellets from the goose. Then he took the goose to a bird rehabilitation center, where it recovered and was released on the grounds.

How NOT to Mail a Ferret

The package was en route from Appomattox, Virginia to Puerto Rico. At the post office in Lynchburg, Virginia, postal workers noticed the box was moving. They had to get a search warrant, and when they finally opened the package, postal inspectors found a ferret inside. Postal workers promptly named its Stamps.

Photos from the Postal Inspector's office show someone stuffed Stamps into a makeshift cage, doped him up on Benedryl, and tried to mail the ferret to the U.S. Territory.

The Postal Inspector handling the case, David McKinney, believes whoever tried to mail Stamps knew they were up to no good.  The return address on the package is an abandoned house, and the sender doesn't exist.

A local family with 15 other ferrets has adopted Stamps, who is healthy and estimated to be about two years old.

Driver Backs Through 6th Floor Garage Wall

An unnamed driver in Tulsa, Oklahoma was backing out of a parking space when his foot became stuck in the pedals. The car backed across the building and struck a wall, punching a hole through it. The back end of the car was sticking through to the outside of the 6th floor of the parking garage! Several cars on the ground below were damaged by falling bricks. The driver was not injured. With video.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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