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The Weird Week in Review

Man Shoots TV Over Palin's Dance Routine

Steven N. Cowan of Vermont, Wisconsin was watching the TV show Dancing with the Stars and became upset that Bristol Palin had not yet been eliminated from the competition. So he got his shotgun out and shot the television set. He then pointed the gun at his wife, who fled and called authorities. Cowan, who is under medical care for a mental health problem, was arrested and charged with second-degree reckless endangerment. Bristol Palin advanced to the final round of competition.

Man Threatened After Saving Woman

Suffering from a sleepless night, Chris Sullivan of Ocean City, Maryland saw a car drive into a canal at about 2AM Monday. As the car began to sink, he rushed from his upstairs apartment to help the driver escape. He dove into the water three times as the car filled up, but could not open the doors or windows. Sullivan finally found a wooden plank and used it to break the car's rear windshield. As 23-year-old Taylor Cole Vanderhook exited the sinking car, she had words for Sullivan.

"She said, 'Dude, I'm gonna kill you -- you broke my car.' I said, 'Darling, you gotta get out, or you're going to die,' " Sullivan said.

Sullivan offered to give Vanderhook a ride home, but police soon arrived, finding her at a nearby bus stop, and arrested her.

Vanderhook was held on drunk driving and other charges. The Ocean City police department plans to honor Sullivan with an award for outstanding service.

Severed Hand Reattached -Three Months Later

Ming Li was on her way to school when a tractor ran over her and severed her left hand. Doctors in China thought the hand could be saved, but the arm was too damaged for reattachment. So they grafted the hand to Ming's leg in to keep it alive! After three months of repair and healing, the 9-year-old's arm was judged to be ready for the hand, so it was removed from her leg and reattached to her arm. With therapy and additional surgery, doctors believe she will be able to use the hand for most normal activities.

3-year-old Finds Gold with Metal Detector

James Hyatt of Billericay, Essex, England had never used a metal detector before. After all, he's only 3 years old. He was on an expedition with his father and grandfather in Hockley for just a few minutes when his detector started beeping. The trio dug up what turned out to be a 500-year-old gold reliquary, possibly worth millions of pounds! The sale price of the find will be split between Hyatt and the landowner.

March of the Santa Penguins

African penguins dressed as Santa Claus and his reindeer helped to open the annual holiday festival at Everland Amusement Park in Yongin, South Korea. The penguins marched in somewhat of a parade formation, accompanied by several human Santas who tossed artificial snow in the air. Other animals at the theme park were dressed for the event, but none were able to march as well as the penguins. The story contains video and a photo gallery.

A Koala Walks into a Bar...

A tavern in Australia got a visit from what turned out to be a celebrity last weekend. Patrons took pictures and called friends to come over to see the koala who came in Saturday evening, presumably to get out of the rain. Kevin Martin of the Marlin Bar on Magnetic Island described the incident.

"He sauntered up to the bar ... I asked him for ID and he got all disgruntled ... walked around the bar and then climbed up a pole and sulked," Mr Martin said today.

"We have a big stuffed marlin on the roof and he just sat under the marlin in front of the speaker, listening to the music.

"He fell asleep."

Rangers were called to take the koala back to his natural habitat. Magnetic Island is known for its large population of koalas.

Fake Doctor Performed Breast Exams at Bars

It sounds like a joke, but this time it worked -for a while. Police in Boise, Idaho arrested Kristina B. Ross on charges of practicing medicine without a license. Ross allegedly told women in local bars that she was a plastic surgeon named Dr. Berlyn Aussieahshowna and conducted breast exams on at least two women who have been identified. A plastic surgery center contacted police when women began calling the office looking for the nonexistent Dr. Aussieahshowna. Police suspect there may be more victims.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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
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]

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