The Weird Week in Review

Twins Born in Different Years

Madisen Carin Lewis was born at 11:59 PM last Friday. Her twin brother, Aiden Everette Lewis was born a minute later by cesarean section in Rockford, Illinois. That one minute difference means that the twins were born in two different years! The timing was not an accident. The twin's mother, Ashley Fansler, was not due until January 28th, but doctors decided a cesarian would be best to avoid complications. Once the surgery was scheduled on Friday, doctors approached Fansler with the possibility of delivering the babies in different years. She and the babies' father Brandon Lewis couldn't turn down the opportunity.

He Had to Steal to Pay for His Defense

Michael Elias of San Antonio, Texas has been arrested several times for a string of burglaries over several months. His latest arrest was for two burglaries, one in June and the other in November, in which Elias fingerprints were found at the scenes.

Elias also told investigators he had to keep committing the burglaries so he could afford to pay his attorney a $150 weekly fee to keep him out of jail.

Most people keep themselves out of jail by not committing crimes.

Missing Man Found Next Door

An unnamed 81-year-old man went missing in Arbroath, Scotland. His wife became worried and his stepson called police in Tayside. Two Coastguard helicopters were dispatched to search the seaside. A couple of hours later, the man was found -in his next door neighbor's house! He had apparently let himself in. No one thought to check the house until after the helicopter search had begun.

Romania Makes Witchcraft an Official Occupation

The witches of Romania are ready to put a curse on government officials, since they made their trade an official category of job. The reason- to collect income taxes! Witch, along with astrologer, fortune teller, embalmer, valet, and driving instructor are all now officially recognized professions and liable for a 16% income tax, as well as contributions to health and pension plans. Only a couple of decades ago, people were imprisoned in Romania for practicing witchcraft. This new plan aims to be more profitable for the state, unless the hexes cast by angry witches prove to work.

Killer Photobomb

Reynaldo Dagsa, a law enforcement official in the Philippines, snapped a picture of his family outside of their home in Manila on New Years Eve. Immediately afterward, he was fatally shot amid the sounds of holiday firecrackers. The family gave the camera to police, who found the gunman clearly visible in the last picture taken, aiming a gun at Dagsa. The picture was published in the newspaper and led to the arrest of a car thief who may have been seeking revenge against Dagsa for ordering his arrest.

Plastinator will be Plastinated

Gunther von Hagens, the German doctor turned artist behind the "Body Worlds" exhibit of actual human bodies preserved in plastic, has been diagnosed with terminal Parkinson's disease. However, the 66-year-old Hagens has decided he will welcome visitors to his touring exhibit even after death -as a exhibit himself.

"[My wife] will plastinate my body ... [and] my plastinated corpse will then stand in a welcoming pose at the entrance of my exhibition," he said.

The process Hagen calls plastination involves using a synthetic resin to freeze exposed organs, muscles, and skeletons in lifelike positions for display.

Man Finds his Double on Facebook

Graham Comrie of Aberdeen thought someone was impersonating him when he heard of a Facebook account of a Graham Cormie of Ellon, Aberdeenshire. Friends even thought Cormie was using Comrie's photos, since they looked so much alike! But this was no identity theft -just an eerie set of coincidences. Besides their names, the two men are both professional photographers, have redheaded wives, have been married 24 years, and have daughters who own Lhasa Apso dogs. The men are only two years apart in age -and live only ten miles from each other. They checked and found that they are not related, just new friends.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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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]