The Weird Week in Review

Burglar Holds Garage Sale at Victim's House

On June 17th, Greg Kemmis of Sarnia, Ontario was out of town when his home was broken into and robbed. According to witnesses, the thief stole tools and equipment, put price tags on them, and sold them at a yard sale in front of the burglarized house! He put up a sign that said "Tools for sale" and stayed with the "merchandise" from 9:30AM until 4PM. One shopper bought a $3,000 machine for $110, and then turned it in to police when he realized it was stolen property. Last week, police arrested 26-year-old Kail Russell Stokes in connection with the theft.

Swedish Woman had One Foot in the Grave

In a scene that we've seen in horror movies, a graveyard in Sweden tried to suck a woman under. The unnamed woman was tending to family graves at Brågarps church in Skåne, Sweden on Wednesday when her leg sank into the earth softened by recent rains. Fortunately, there were other people around, and emergency services were summoned to extract the frightened but uninjured woman. The parish says the grave will be repaired.

Freezing Man's Skull Saves his Life

After 25-year-old Kyle Johnson suffered a horrific longboard accident, his brain swelled so badly that doctors in Ogden, Utah had to remove parts of his skull in a procedure called a bilateral decompressive craniectomy to relieve the pressure.

"Most neurosurgeons do a decompressive craniectomy on one side of the head, where the trauma was," Welling said. "In this case, Kyle had such a global brain injury that we needed to take both sides of his head off, and you just leave a small strip of bone right down the middle."

After Welling and his team removed Johnson's fractured skull, they put it back together with micro-screws and plates. And then "“ they put it in the freezer.

Three weeks later, when the swelling went down, they thawed the skull fragments and replaced them in Johnson's head. He regained consciousness after another week and is recovering.

Royal Descendant Sues Russia for Kremlin

Valery Kubarev can trace his lineage back to the Rurik dynasty, the royal family who ruled Russia during the time the Kremlin building was erected. Kubarev founded an organization called the Princes' Foundation for the Advancement of Religious and National Consensus. The foundation is suing the government for the use of the Kremlin in perpetuity, claiming ownership of the building. The lawsuit sounds like long shot, but the Russian government is currently returning buildings that the Soviet government took from churches, so the courts have agreed to hear the case. In another twist, there is no existing documentation on who actually owns the Kremlin, so Kubarev's claim may have merit.

Wing Falls Off Plane; Pilot Walks Away

A stunt pilot survived a bizarre accident during an air show in Santa Fe, Argentina last weekend. Dino Moline flew a RANS S-9 Chaos plane into a maneuver when one of the wings broke off! The 22-year-old Moline managed to deploy the plane's ballistic parachute, which slowed its plunge to the ground. The pilot burned his foot, but was otherwise fine. The incident was captured on video.

Bears Guard Canadian Pot Farm

Police raided a farm in Christina Lake, British Columbia to find that black bears had been enlisted to scare intruders away from the premises. Two people were arrested for running a marijuana plantation. The ten or so bears did not pose a threat to police.

"They were tame, they just sat around watching. At one point one of the bears climbed onto the hood of a police car, sat there for a bit and then jumped off," said Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant Fred Mansveld.

In Canada, feeding bears is illegal as it leads to bears associating food with humans and increases the likelihood of bears coming into towns and cities to look for food.

One has to wonder whether the bears were guarding the marijuana or helping themselves to it. See a video news report.

Paint Huffer Guy Arrested Again

Patrick Tribett of Wheeling was arrested Wednesday night in New Martinsville, West Virginia for huffing paint -again. Tribett is internet famous for his 2005 mugshot showing gold spray paint on his face. This is at least the ninth time Tribett has been arrested for inhaling chemicals. The news article contains a slide show of seven mugshots, most featuring evidence on Tribetts' face.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]