CLOSE

The Weird Week in Review

Snow in Mexico

The snowstorm that blew through the Unites States Wednesday night also left its mark in Mexico. The border city of Ciudad Juarez closed schools and factories after it received a thin layer of snow. Abraham González International Airport closed down due to the snow. Widespread power outages affected the region, and 28 traffic accidents were reported (with no fatalities). The temperature in Ciudad Juarez was reported at 9 degrees above zero Fahrenheit- the coldest recorded temperature since 1951.

How Not to Ship a Puppy

Stacey Champion took a package to the Minneapolis Post Office and told the clerks not to worry if it moved, as it contained a toy robot. She paid $22 to ship the box to Georgia via priority mail. The package later moved and made noise. A postal inspector gave permission to open the box, which contained a four-month-old puppy! The puppy would not have survived the trip in the sealed box, which would have taken two days and a flight in an unheated cargo hold. Champion was cited for animal cruelty, and the puppy was taken to an animal shelter. Champion demanded her $22 back, which the postal service declined to refund.

Burglar Has No Luck

Do you ever have those days where everything goes wrong? That's what happened to an unnamed 19-year-old burglar in Frankston, a suburb of Melbourne, Australia. His plan was to rob a bakery while it was closed for the night.

The young man broke into the shop, in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston, through a skylight and landed in a locked store room.

So he tried stacking up a number of containers on top of each other to try and climb out.

But they toppled over, throwing him to the floor.

Then he tried to climb shelves to get out, and they collapsed under him.

He fell to the floor several times, and ended up with a number of cuts and bruises.

When he discovered the security camera, he tried to cover it, but too late: his various falls were caught on camera. He eventually escaped, but when his face was publicized, he turned himself in.

Neon CRAP Sign in Idaho Neighborhood

A new glowing neon sign appeared in Nampa, Idaho around Christmas. It wasn't a holiday decoration. Large red letters spell out the word CRAP. Neighbors were surprised by the strange glowing sign on the roof of Andy's Joseph's used appliance shop. For Joseph, it was a business decision, not an opinion. He says the letters stand for "Can't Resist Andy's Place." Why such a strange acronym? The slogan came about when Joseph got a deal on an old sign from a defunct floor covering store. The sign spelled CARPET, which gave Joseph some letters he could use for a different business.

World's Oldest Person Dies

Eunice Sanborn, who outlived three husbands, was 114 years old when she passed away Monday at her home in Texas, according to caretaker David French. Or was she 115? Census records indicate Mrs. Sanborn was born on July 20, 1896, in Louisiana. Sanborn herself had always said she was born in 1895, and that the Census Bureau had made a mistake. Either way, with Sanborn's death, the oldest person in the world is now 114-year-old Besse Cooper of Georgia.

Firemen Called to Rescue Beer

A 44-year-old man in Kaiserslautern, Germany, and a friend stepped off a train for a smoke and saw the train pulled away without them. The man panicked when he realized that he had left his beer on the train. Then he did what anyone would do in an emergency -he broke the glass and pulled a fire alarm! A squad of firefighters from the Kaiserslautern Fire Department responded. The only emergency they found was an injury the man sustained while breaking the fire alarm glass. He was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .195 percent.

A Flood of Duck Feathers

While some cities are buried under snow, a road in Cambridgeshire, England only looked that way as it was covered in duck feathers. A truck carrying the feathers caught fire and spilled its load on the A14 near Hemingford Grey. The truck's diesel engine caused the fire, which burned until the truck was destroyed. Meanwhile, the load of feathers flew about, resembling a snowstorm and making the road slippery. The westbound lanes were shut down and a rolling roadblock was installed in the eastbound lanes. Motorists were advised to avoid the area.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
© Nintendo
arrow
fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
Original image
© 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.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
arrow
BIG QUESTIONS
SECTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES