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The Weird Week in Review

Golfer Hits a Rock, Starts 12-acre Fire

Very dry conditions led to a freak accident at a country club in Irvine, California. A huge fire was traced to a golfer who struck a rock with his club while playing at the Shady Canyon Golf Club. The impact produced a spark which ignited dry grass and the blaze then spread over twelve acres! More than 150 firefighters responded to put out the fire. The golfer was neither named nor charged in the accident. Fire official warn that the vegetation in thousands of acres in Orange County are extremely dry and at risk of fire.

Wife Meets Mistress During Chilean Mine Vigil

Yonni Barrios is one of 33 miners trapped 2,300 feet underground due to a gold mine collapse in Chile. Families keep vigil above ground as rescuers work to free the men, a task that may take months. Barrios' wife, Marta Salinas, is there to offer support and prayers. So is his girlfriend Susana Valenzuela. The two met for the first time when Salinas heard Valenzuela call her husband's name.

Salinas told told The Sun  in London she was "horrified" but plans to keep her man. "Barrios is my husband. He loves me, and I am his devoted wife. This woman has no legitimacy," she told the British paper.

But the other woman, Susana Valenzuela, said she and the trapped miner will stay together. "We are in love," she told the paper. "I'll wait for him."

Cheerleader Won Millions Suing Wrong Company

Sarah Jones is a high school teacher who moonlights as a Cincinnati Bengals cheerleader. She sued a website for defamation after they published allegations that she slept with Bengal football players and had two venereal diseases. The court awarded Jones an $11 million judgement. However, the defendant in the case was listed as TheDirt.com, owned by Dirty World Entertainment Recordings. The actual website that posted the offending material was TheDirty.com, which is owned by Dirty World LLC. The clerical error meant that the founder of the website, Hooman Karamian, who was named in the lawsuit, was never served notice of the suit.

Butts Arrested in Boob Murder Case

In a story with a headline journalists wait their entire lives to write, 26-year-old Kermit Butts was arrested in Centre County, Pennsylvania in connection with the murder of Samuel Boob. Boob was killed on August 23rd, and Butts is suspected of driving the getaway car for Ronald Heichel, who police believe shot Boob. The victim's wife, Mirinda Boob, has also been arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. She is accused of hiring Heichel to murder Boob.

Teenager's Car Totaled One Hour After Driving Test

Charlotte Carrington of Sawston, Cambridgeshire, England took her driver's license test test for the third time and passed. The 19-year-old's car was totaled within an hour. The kicker is -she wasn't driving the vehicle! The car was parked on the road  in front of her home when a lamp post fell on it. A man cutting the grass had hit the lamp post with his lawnmower. Insurance will cover the cost of the car, which is worth less than the repair bill.

Amputee ‘may get better’

Lance-corporal Johno Lee, an British veteran of the Afghanistan War applied for and was denied a disabled parking permit three times. Meanwhile, he has racked up £800 in fines for parking in reserved spots so he could unload his wheelchair.

Lance-corporal Lee, from Coddington, said when he first applied to Nottinghamshire County Council for a blue badge he was advised he was young and ‘may get better.’

His right leg was amputated below the knee after he was caught up in an explosion in Helmand Province in 2008.

He said: “I replied that they possibly didn’t quite understand the situation and that I thought it unlikely that my leg would grow back.

After the local newspaper, the Newark Advertiser heard of his story, a reporter contacted officials who are now looking into the matter. The fines already levied against Lee have been rescinded.

NYC Tap Water has Crabs

New York City tap water enjoys a reputation as safe, good-tasting, and cheap. Maybe one of the reasons is those microscopic crustaceans called copepods, which consume mosquito larva. The high quality of the city's water means the copepods, which are present in many water supplies around the world, do not have to be filtered out. However, they are crustaceans, so those who strive to keep kosher are advised to filter the water themselves.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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