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The Weird Week in Review

Tossed Pot Lands on Police Cruiser

A New York state trooper saw a man standing up in a car with his upper body sticking out of the sunroof on interstate 190 near Buffalo. When he began to follow the car with his flashing lights on, 20-year-old Sean Schmidt threw a small bag of marijuana away. Unfortunately for him, the bag landed on the hood of the police car. The pot was easily retrieved, and Schmitt was charged with marijuana possession in addition to a seat belt violation.

Man Robs Bank To Get Health Care

Richard James Verone of Gastonia, North Carolina walked into an RBC Bank and handed the teller a note demanding one dollar. It also said he had a gun. The teller handed him the money, and Verone sat down to wait for the police to arrive. Police arrested Verone without incident, as he was not armed after all. The 59-year-old Verone suffers from two ruptured discs and a growth in his chest, but could not afford medical care. His plan was to be convicted of armed robbery and receive treatment while incarcerated. However, the charge was only petty larceny, and as Verone's first offense, may get him only probation. While he awaits trial, his medical problems are being treated. Those who know say he should have thrown a brick through a post office window, which would have guaranteed a federal charge.

Snake Lost During Camping Trip

A camper at Addison Oaks County Park in Michigan reported that he had lost his 5-foot-long boa constrictor. The man was staying in a pop-up camper in the park's campground when the snake went missing. County officials called on herpetologists from Michigan zoos for help in determining whether the snake was a danger. A boa constrictor that size is a juvenile, and would be no threat to humans, but would look for small animals such as rodents. The camper was cited for violating park rules in bringing the snake to the campground.

Guy Fowlkes Arrested in "Gunpowder Plot"

The headline makes it sound as if history is repeating itself, but this happened in Ocoee, Florida. Guy Swindell Fowlkes was working at a fireworks tent and got into an argument with his girlfriend, who also worked there. According to the police report, the 33-year-old Fowlkes hit the woman, then went into the tent and began to light fireworks. He also lit firecrackers and placed them into the gas tank of a co-worker's car. As police approached, they could see explosions in the distance. Fowlkes was charged with arson and battery. Many of the fireworks explosions were caught on video.

37 Years Without a Bath

A farmer in India, Guru Kailash Singh, has neither bathed nor cut his hair since just after his wedding day -37 years ago! His wife says the family has tried to force a bath on him several times, but he manages to run away each time. Singh has nothing against bathing, but he was told by a priest years ago that giving up hygiene would help him produce a son. In the years since, seven daughters have been born into the family. Apparently Singh is holding onto that promise, even though his wife, Kalavati Devi, is now 60 years old.

Thief Wears Stolen Coat to Court

Stephen Kirkbride went to court in Kendal, Westmorland, England to answer charges of shoplifting from a sporting goods store. The expensive waterproof Craghopper jacket he wore to court was recognized by the store manager as the one that was stolen from the shop.

Kirkbride’s defence solicitor Judith Birkett argued her client ‘wouldn’t be so stupid’ as to turn up in stolen goods, but Kendal magistrate Jenny Farmer found him guilty of shoplifting, dismissing his excuses as ‘completely implausible’.

Store manager Deborah Robson said: “I pointed the jacket out to the police officer and he seized it straight away.”

Kirkbride claimed he bought the jacket from a thrift store, then said he got it from an unnamed friend. Security cameras had recorded Kirkbride taking the jacket from the store.

Dead Man Exhumed for Dentures

Kenneth Ray Manis of Chattanooga died while in the care of Parkridge Medical Center on June 12th, and was buried three days later. Only afterward did the hospital realize they had given Manis' family not only his personal effects, but those of his hospital roommate as well. The roommate's dentures had been buried with Manis. Two weeks later, arrangements were made at the family's request to exhume the grave and retrieve the dentures, to make sure Manis is buried with the correct teeth. The hospital will pay the cost of the exhumation.

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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:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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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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