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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!

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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