The Weird Week in Review

Longest Tennis Match in History

John Isner and Nicolas Mahut began their first-round match at Wimbledon on Tuesday. Before a winner was declared on Thursday, they had played five sets and 183 games! The last 138 games were in the final set. By then, millions of people around the world were watching the two relatively-unknown tennis players. The previous longest match in Grand Slam tennis was a mere six hours and 33 minutes. The Isner-Mahut matchup took a total of eleven hours and five minutes over three days. Isner won the match, 70-68, and will advance to the second round at Wimbledon.

Man Hold Up Gas Station with Caulk Gun

A teenager in Austin, Texas tried to rob a convenience store by brandishing a caulk gun. The store clerk said a man dressed as a woman entered the store, then 17-year-old Jose Alejandro Romero came in, pointed a caulk gun at the clerk, and demanded money. Romero struck the clerk with the caulk gun. The clerk struck back with a trash can.

The assailant left the store without money and sped off in the red pickup, the affidavit said.

The other man, identified as Kenneth Williams, told investigators that he is a transgender prostitute and that Romero had picked him up from the street before the attempted robbery, the affidavit said.

Williams spent the night driving around with Romero as he got money from several locations to buy and smoke crack, the affidavit said.

A warrant has been issued for Romero's arrest.

Antarctica's Nudist Club

Those who work in the freezing weather of Antarctica are already members of a very exclusive club, but with a initiation stunt, they can join an even more exclusive club. The traditional "nudie run" takes a slightly different shape for different nationalities, according to Dr. Chris Cormick. Australians run a lap of the the accommodation block if they are dared or if they lose a bet. New Zealanders skinny dip in Lake Vanda. Americans leave a 200-degree sauna and run a lap.  When the temperature is -100F, this stunt will earn them membership in the "300 Club" for enduring a 300 degree temperature change.

Cop Arrested for DUI on His Way to Court

Constable Glen Campbell of Gosford, Australia was arrested for driving under the influence last November, when he passed out at a shopping center. His blood-alcohol level was 0.395, one of the highest ever in Australia for a person who had been driving. He was in uniform at the time. Campbell was due in court over that charge last Tuesday, but was pulled over on his way to the hearing, and registered a blood-alcohol level of 0.253. Campbell pleaded guilty to both charges, and was ordered to live with his parents and not drink or drive. He will be sentenced in September.

Cat Receives Bionic Feet

A cat in England named Oscar was struck by a combine harvester last year and his back feet were mangled to the point that they had to be amputated. Veterinary surgeon Noel Fitzpatrick fitted Oscar with new hi-tech feet called intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics (Itaps).

Mr Fitzpatrick explained: "The real revolution with Oscar is [that] we have put a piece of metal and a flange into which skin grows into an extremely tight bone."

"We have managed to get the bone and skin to grow into the implant and we have developed an 'exoprosthesis' that allows this implant to work as a see-saw on the bottom of an animal's limbs to give him effectively normal gait."

The Itap technology is now in tests for human use. Dr. Fitzpatrick is the subject of a BBC documentary called The Bionic Vet.

Two Wives Claim Man's Dead Body

Chandan Kumar Chakrabarty, alias Sazzad Hossain of Dhaka, Bangladesh, led a double life that no one knew until he was killed by muggers last year. Two women, one Hindu and the other Muslim, both claimed the body as his widow! The 42-year-old man had married both women. The Hindu wife, who married Chakrabarty/Hossain 15 years ago, wants his body cremated in line with their religion. The Muslim wife says he converted to Islam a year ago, and should be buried with Muslim rites. Local police plan to hear testimony from Chakrabarty/Hossain's friends to determine which wife will receive the body.

Nude Woman Leads Police Chase

Police in West Valley City, Utah say a naked women drove up to another car, left her car and got into the second car and drove off. The owner of the stolen car, who had stepped out to post a sign, called 911 and then jumped in the woman's vehicle to chase her. The woman, followed by police, drove to a field and fled the car. Police then chased her on foot and searched the field. When they spotted her, she jumped into a police cruiser and drove off, dragging officers for a short time before they could let go. The woman crashed the cruiser and fled on foot once again. She climbed through a barbed wire fence to find more officers waiting for her. Police finally subdued the woman, later identified as 31-year-old Sylvina Beagley, with a Taser. She was taken to a mental health facility for an evaluation. The police car was a total loss.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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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]