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The Weird Week in Review

Man Jailed for Tortilla Dough

Antonio Hernandez Carranza drove from Carson, California, to visit his sister in Johnson City, Tennessee. He missed an exit and ended up in Asheville, North Carolina. There, he was arrested and sent to jail for driving while intoxicated and cocaine possession, among other charges. Carranza said he was sleepy and the powder police found in his trunk was part of a shipment of food he was taking to his sister, which included cheese, shrimp, and dough for tortillas and tamales. After four days in jail under a $300,000 bond, police determined that Carranza had not been drinking, and did not possess 91 pounds of cocaine as they had thought. All but one misdemeanor charge was dropped and the traveler was released, but the food is gone, and Carranza cannot afford to redeem his truck from the impound lot.

Leg Reattached Backward

Dugan Smith of Fostoria, Ohio, was ten years old when he was diagnosed with bone cancer. After chemotherapy, his leg was removed, but part of it was reattached -backward!

Known as a rotationplasty, his surgery involved removing a large section of his right leg that surrounded the tumour - from below his knee to about mid-thigh - then reattaching the lower limb to the shortened upper thigh.

The twist, so to speak, is that Dugan's lower leg was rotated 180 degrees and sewn on backwards.

His ankle now acts as his knee, his calf has replaced the lower part of his thigh and his backwards-facing foot slips into a prosthetic and powers the reversed muscles and joint with an up-and-down motion.

It took 18 months of physical therapy for Dugan to learn a new way to use his leg. Now 13, he is playing baseball again.

Batman Arrested on Rooftop

Police in Petoskey, Michigan, responded to a call and found Batman hanging over the edge of a 30-foot-tall building. Officers pulled the caped crusader back onto the roof, and unmasked him to find 31-year-old local resident Mark Wayne Williams. Williams was searched, and police found a telescoping steel baton, a spray can of chemical irritant, and lead-lined gloves in his utility belt. Williams was arrested for public disturbance and carrying concealed weapons. At his arraignment hearing the next day, Williams said he was not aware that the items were illegal. This is not Williams' first brush with the law.

Man Goes Home Somewhere Else

According to police, Mark C. Sirben of Spring Hill, Florida, was so drunk that he went home, made himself a snack, and passed out on the couch. But it wasn't his home. It wasn't even in Spring Hill -the home was in Palm Harbor! The sleeping woman who actually lived there heard someone coughing in the middle of the night. When she found Sirben, a complete stranger, she woke her husband. Sirben argued that he lived there before he passed out again. Pinellas County Deputies responded, and found Sirben still asleep on the couch, a plate of food beside him. The couple found food in a frying pan they had not prepared. Sirben, who has a record of DUI convictions, was jailed for trespassing and criminal mischief.

Cat Spends a Week Alone in Camper after Wreck

New Yorker Ann Laubacker wrecked the family camper in Charleston, South Carolina, on the trip home from Florida. Neither she nor her mother were hurt, but they were traveling with several pets. They recovered all but two cats, one of which was seen in the nearby woods. The other, an 11-year-old cat named Spencer, was still missing. A week later, an insurance adjuster took a look at the damaged camper and found Spencer, still hiding. He was dehydrated after a week alone, but with veterinary care, is expected to recover completely.

Man Walks Through Peanut Butter Art Exhibit

A museum in Rotterdam, Netherlands, has an art installation that consists of peanut butter covering 14 square meters of the floor. The smooth peanut butter "carpet" has no fence around it because museum directors believe it would detract from the art. You can guess it would be easy for a visitor to walk into it -and that's exactly what happened.

Bemused tourists watched as the man sank into the 1100 litres of peanut butter - enough to fill more than 2000 regular-sized jars. He has been asked to pay for the damage after leaving a trail of footprints.

"It is normal that people pay if they damage the art," spokeswoman Sharon Cohen told the Rotterdam-based newspaper.

The pricey installation - created by the artist Wim T. Schippers in 1962 and known as the Peanut Butter Platform - has suffered similar mishaps in the past.

He was the third person to step into the exhibit.

Schoolboy Wears Skirt to Protest Discrimination

The rules as Impington Village College near Cambridge, England state that shorts are not allowed, but skirts are. Boys were roasting in long pants, while girls bared their legs in cooler skirts. So 12-year-old Chris Whitehead dressed for the weather -in a skirt. He went to school and addressed an assembly in a knee-length skirt, which is part of the approved uniform. Rules that ban sex discrimination mans the school cannot prevent a boy from wearing a skirt. Chris' parents are proud of their eight-grader for standing up for what he believes in. Only time will tell if the school will begin to allow shorts, or if more boys will wear skirts to stay cool.

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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iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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