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The Weird Week in Review

Police Chase Elephant Through Zurich

Swiss police are not accustomed to a chase scene like this. An elephant named Sabu led them on a chase through the financial district of Zurich last weekend. The escapee from a visiting circus roamed the city for an hour before a trainer was able to control the animal. Sabu stopped for a dip in Lake Zurich during her spree. No injuries or damages were reported, but a part of the chase was captured on amateur video.

Drunk Driver Was Distracted by Alligator

An unnamed Texas man was arrested in Crestview, Florida for driving under the influence when he drove into a ditch. The man explained that he'd had about six beers and that he was distracted when he saw an alligator in his headlights.

During his conversation with the officer, the driver warned them about the lions and leopards around him and warned the officer to be careful.

The officer suspected that the man was impaired and administered a field sobriety test. The man almost fell over during one portion of the test, the report said.

Chinese Farmer Fights Developers -with Rockets

Yang Youde does not want to give up his farmland on the outskirts of Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Officials tried to buy his land, but he rejected the offer, saying the property was worth five times the offer. When developers came to seize the property, Yang fired on them with a homemade cannon consisting of fireworks mounted on a wheelbarrow. During the first eviction attempt, Yang ran out of ammunition, but was saved by local police. For the second eviction attempt, he had more rockets, which are capable of traveling over 100 yards, and a makeshift watchtower to fire from. No injuries were reported.

Woman Calls 911 Looking for a Husband

Audrey Kay Scott of Alliance, Ohio was looking for love in all the wrong places. She dialed 911 five times and asked for a husband. The dispatcher warned she could be arrested for misusing the emergency number, and threatened to send an officer. Scott thanked the dispatcher, since sending a man over was what she wanted in the first place. Scott was arrested and a judge ordered her to attend daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The news story includes an audio recording of the call.

'Moss Men' Take Over Spanish Town

A festival called Hombre de Musgo (Procession of the Moss Men) takes place in Bejar, Salamanca, Spain every year on the on the Sunday after the festival of Corpus Christi. Honored residents dress in stifling hot costumes made of moss and parade through the town, while locals throw flower petals at them. They represent heroes from a historical event.

Back in 1397, a group of Christians disguised themselves in moss before launching an attack to conquer the city of Bejar, which was under Muslim rule.

Legend has it that the original event took place on the day of Santa Marina, a virgin who lived in disguise on the nearby mountain of Castanar.

This year's procession can be seen in a video with the story.

A Wedding Inside a Shark Tank

April Pignataro and Michael Curry of New York City got married on Sunday. The bride wore a white wetsuit and the groom wore a traditional black wetsuit as they climbed inside a 120,000 gallon shark tank to take their vows at Atlantis Marine World in Riverhead, N.Y. Both are experienced divers, and said their "I dos" over a radio transmitter with an officiant who did not get in the tank. The ceremony was captured on video.

Married Couple had Crossed Paths as Toddlers

Alex Voutsinas grew up in Canada. His wife Donna is from Florida. The couple were looking through Donna's old photo albums and came across a picture of her trip to Walt Disney World when she was a toddler. Alex recognized a man in the background of the photo -it was his father, pushing a stroller containing a very young Alex! Alex's mother also had pictures of the trip that confirmed that the two children were at the theme park at the same time. The couple didn't meet until they were adults, and fell in love while working for the same employer. It's a small world, after all.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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