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The Weird Week in Review

Intruder calls 911 Out of Fear

Timothy James Chapek was taking a shower in Portland, Oregon, when someone came into the house. Afraid that the person might have a gun, Chapek locked himself in the bathroom and dialed 911. So did the homeowner, who had been surprised to arrive and find the stranger in the shower. Chapek told emergency services that he had broken into the house, and was afraid the homeowner might shoot him. Police arrested Chapek without incident and charged him with criminal trespass.

Colorful Spill

A truck full of commercial ink crashed on an I-95 ramp in the Boston area Wednesday, spilling the colored ink all over the highway. No one was injured in the wreck.

Several hundred gallons of ink splattered onto the highway, said Joe Ferson, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Approximately 16,000 pounds of ink cartridges from the Flint Group, an Indianapolis-based company selling printing and packaging products, was bound for a newspaper company in Portland, Maine. Red, blue, and yellow ink cartridges were inside the truck, but Ferson said there is no evidence the yellow ink was released.

Although the spilled ink is not considered hazardous, the ramp was closed for hours for cleanup. The video clearly shows the presence of yellow ink.

Bigfoot Sues New Hampshire

Jonathan Doyle dressed in a Bigfoot costume and wandered about on Mount Monadnock in 2009. He filmed his antics and the reactions of those who spotted him. He tried to recreate the stunt in 2010 for another film, but park rangers told him he couldn't do that without a permit and insurance. Now Doyle has filed suit against the state of New Hampshire, saying the park staff infringed on his right of free speech and expression. The American Civil Liberties Union is siding with Doyle.

Haircut Interrupted by Stabbing

David Davis of New Haven, Connecticut was in the process of getting his hair cut at a salon when a man approached him in an "aggressive manner." Davis grabbed a pair of barber's scissors and stabbed the man. Police did not know how severely the victim was wounded, but said there was a lot of blood on his clothing. He was taken to Stamford Hospital. Police apprehended 21-year-old Davis shortly afterward, who said the stabbing was in defense. Davis' mugshot is evidence that the new hairstyle was only half completed when the incident occurred.

Thieves Break into Prison

A prison break usually involves someone wanting to get out, but someone actually broke into New Plymouth Prison in New Zealand last Friday night. Firefighters responded to a report of fire in the prison administration building and found the curtains ablaze. Police were called because the window was found to have been forced open. A 50" plasma screen TV set was missing. Despite the presence of closed circuit video feeds, electronic security measures, and barbed wires, someone got away with a rather large television.

Woman Keeps Pet Crocodiles

Vicki Lowing lives in Australia with her three pet crocodiles. She adopted Johnie, her first crocodile, fifteen years ago. Johnie is now 6 feet long! Lowing tells how the crocodile would get into bed with her and her then-husband, and even sleep with her young son.

"Johnie would jump on Andrew's bed nearly every night. They were like a brother and sister," Lowing said.

Animal experts tell 20/20 there is no way to domesticate a crocodile. They are too aggressive, powerful and unpredictable. Ultimately a relationship like this may end in real tears – and not crocodile ones.

Lowing is one of several people who keep crocodiles as pets.

Man Suspected of Child-seat Violation

Police in Australia pulled over a car for a random drunk-driving check, and wanted to know why 19-year-old Khagendra Thapa Magar was not properly restrained in a child safety seat. Magar holds the current world record as the smallest man. He is only 67 centimeters tall (2' 2") and weighs only 5kg (12lbs). Magar, a resident of Nepal, was in Australia on a charity tour to raise awareness of global sex trafficking. Police let Magar and his entourage continue traveling after seeing his passpor

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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