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The Weird Week in Review

Armed WWII Grenades Used As Bookends

The bomb squad blew up two World War II hand grenades in Deland, Florida last Tuesday morning. A man told police he had been given a hand grenade by a neighbor. The man had pulled the pin on the grenade, then replaced the pin, set the grenade outside, and called police. The neighbor said her late husband, a World War II veteran, had used the grenades as bookends. Police detonated both grenades in a field, which left a two-foot crater in the ground.

Woman Finds Drugs Inside Vacuum Cleaner

An unidentified woman in Green Bay, Wisconsin, received a vacuum cleaner as a Christmas gift. When she opened the box, she found other packages: two pounds each of crystal methamphetamine and cocaine!

"This was an 'are you kidding me' incident," said Lt. David Poteat, who heads the Brown County Drug Task Force.

It's likely that a smuggler inserted the drugs into the vacuum cleaner box before the unit was shipped from the Juarez, Mexico, area, where it had been reconditioned, Poteat said. No one, including the Green Bay retailer who sold the vacuum, noticed anything amiss, he said, until the woman opened the package and called police.

Police believe the woman who received the package had no connection to the drug-smuggling scheme.

Texting Shopper Suing Mall

Cathy Marrero walked through the mall in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, while texting on her mobile phone and plunged headfirst into a fountain. Her mishap was captured on security cameras from at least two different angles. A video recording of the security staff watching the incident over and over and laughing was posted on YouTube where it received over two millions views. Marrero didn't think the video was all that funny, and said she is suing the mall because security guards should have been helping her instead of laughing. It is not clear how long after the incident the recording in question was made.

Update: And there's even more to the story.

Police Catch Drug-smuggling Pigeon

Police in Bucaramanga, Colombia found a pigeon a block away from the local jail trying to fly, but couldn't because of the weight of its baggage. A pack strapped to the bird's back contained 1.6 ounces of marijuana and 0.2 ounces of crack cocaine. Police believe the pigeon was supposed to deliver the package to jail inmates, but weren't sure whether it had been trained by inmates or accomplices on the outside. Pigeons have been used to sneak cell phone SIM cards into prisons before, but they weigh much less than the drug pack this pigeon was wearing.

Twin Sisters Give Birth Minutes Apart

Identical twin sisters Amy Gilbert and Allison Oliverio of Clinton, Michigan, grew up together, both married their high school sweethearts, went into the same profession, and then became mothers -on the same day! The sisters were put in rooms next to each other in the maternity ward of the local hospital, so Dr. Timothy Kim could attend to both births. Amy delivered a little girl and Allison had a son 14 minutes later. Only time will tell how alike the cousins who share a January 12th birthday will be.

Police Detain Drunken Owl

Police officers in Pforzheim, Germany, were called Tuesday to investigate an owl that appeared to be sick.

"A woman walking her dog alerted the police after seeing the bird sitting by the side of the road oblivious to passing traffic," Frank Otruba, spokesman for the police in the southwestern city of Pforzheim, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The Brown Owl didn't appear to be injured and officers quickly concluded that it had had one too many. One of its eyelids was drooping, adding to the general impression of inebriation.

"It wasn't staggering around and we didn't breathalyze it but there were two little bottles of Schapps in the immediate vicinity," said Otruba. "We took it to a local bird expert who has treated alcoholized birds before and she has been giving it lots of water."

The owl will be released when sober.

It Didn't Stay in Vegas

New York City college student Hubert Blackman filed a lawsuit against Las Vegas Exclusive Personals over an incident that occured while he was on vacation in December. Blackman says he arranged for a stripper to come to his room. He says the stripper also performed a sex act, for which he paid, but she didn't stay for the contracted hour. He demanded a refund from the company the next day. When the business refused, Blackman called police to complain. The police advised him that he could be arrested, as prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas. In the lawsuit filed in January, Blackman is asking for his $275 back plus $1.8 million "for the tragic event that happened." The Vegas company denies dealing in prostitution, saying the adult dancers it uses are subcontractors.

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
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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]

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