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The Weird Week in Review

Public Restroom to Reopen as Food Outlet

A 660-square-foot former men's restroom sitting on the Boston Common is set to reopen -as a sandwich shop! The concrete structure dates back to the 1920s and is known to Bostonians as the "Pink Palace". It hasn't been used as a latrine for several decades. Now the restaurant chain Earl of Sandwich has signed a 15-year lease on the property. The company expects to open the sandwich shop later this year.

Three-year-old Weighs 132 Pounds

Chinese toddler Lu Hao weighed only 5.7 pounds when he was born, but since then he has ballooned to 132 pounds! That makes him five times the size of the average child his age in China.

'His appetite is so good that for a meal he can eat 3 big bowls of rice, even larger than I and his mother,' said Hao's father Lu Yuncheng.

Since Hao was one-year-old his parents have tried to keep a careful eye on his diet.

However, Hao's mother Chen Yuan comments: 'We have to let him be as if we don't feed him he will cry non-stop'.

Hao is driven to nursery school on a motorcycle because he doesn't like to walk. So far, doctors don't know is there is some underlying medical cause for the child's tremendous weight.

On the Bluff, in the Buff

Rescue workers banded together on Tuesday to retrieve a naked woman from the side of a cliff in the San Diego area. The 27-year-old woman was apparently trying to reach Black's Beach, a traditionally clothing-optional beach below the cliff at Torrey Pines State Park. The woman huddled in the altogether for a half hour while a series of ropes was rigged. A female lifeguard rappelled down and hooked the woman into a harness. The woman was then lowered to the bottom, where she was given clothing. She was uninjured. The unnamed woman was given a citation for disregarding signs and entering a restricted area, but will not be billed for the rescue operation.

House Raided by Sheriff, Star, Tank

Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and guest lawman Steven Seagal went on a raid Monday to a home where a man was suspected of cockfighting in the West Valley area of Phoenix. The search warrant was executed after the squad rolled into the neighborhood in armored vehicles led by a tank. Neighbors believe the entire operation was staged for Steven Seagal’s reality TV show Lawman. Seagal rode in the tank to the raid. Officers arrested Jesus Llovera, who was unarmed, on suspicion of cockfighting. They also euthanized 115 chickens. Thousands of dollars in property damage resulted from the raid.

Stolen Ostrich Saves Itself

Farmer Florin Diaconescu of Pitesti, Romania was distraught to find his ostrich had been stolen by rustlers. But he needn't have worried -this ostrich may be part homing pigeon, because she escaped and found her own way home! Diaconescu had given up hope of getting the ostrich back, but was amazed when he saw his missing bird running down the road toward home, raising a cloud of dust. The bird was running at about 40 mph when she arrived at the farm.

Burglar Left Dangling over Hot Oil

A fire alarm alerted police to a break-in at Paesan's Pizza in Rotterdam, New York about 1AM Friday. They found Timothy J. Cipriani wedged in an air duct with his legs dangling over a fryer that was still hot.

Brown said a second person may have been involved, but disappeared before officers arrived.

Cipriani broke into the restaurant by first scaling a nearby tree and traversing the roof, Brown said. Once on the roof, he used a hammer to smash open air ducts.

Police took several photographs at the scene and shared them with reporters.

Cipriani was freed from the vent after 30 minutes of police work and was taken, still covered in grease, to the Schenectady County jail and charged with burglary.

One-legged Crow Returns Home

Nettie Trigg, owner of an animal sanctuary in Felixstowe, Suffolk, England, nursed a crow named Percy back to health several years ago, although Percy had to have one leg removed. She considered Percy her pet for two years, and then he was stolen from the rescue center. Three-and-a-half years later, Trigg was chatting with the owner of another sanctuary a few miles away. Maureen Taylor mentioned that someone had abandoned a one-legged crow, which the staff had named Percy. Trigg went to collect Percy and declared him to be the same bird she lost years ago, although the name is a coincidence.

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!

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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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