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The Weird Week in Review

Heart Attack Lecture Interrupted by Heart Attack

Dr. William Phillips, a cardiologist in Lewiston, Maine, gave a lecture on heart disease at a building near the Central Maine Medical Center. As he was talking about angina, a man raised his hand and said he was experiencing it! Dr. Phillips considered sending the man to the hospital next door, but the man collapsed into a full heart attack and there was no time. Phillips and three cardiac rehab nurses who were in attendance began CPR and brought in an automated external defibrillator, which restarted the man's heart. Paramedics then took him to the hospital. Dr Phillips finished his lecture, then checked on the patient, who is expected to recover.

Stolen Safe Found Protruding from Vehicle

A man in Cairns, Queensland, Australia was found guilty of breaking and entering in connection with a robbery last summer. John Davis was caught when police spotted a car with a large file cabinet and safe hanging precariously out of the back. The furniture had been taken from a community center where Davis worked. When he broke into the center to take the small safe, Davis found he could not detach it from the file cabinet -so he took the whole thing. Although Davis was careful not to leave fingerprints or DNA at the scene, he could not fit the entire haul in his car. Davis received a 12-month sentence.

Mating Turtles Disrupt Air Traffic

Runway 4 at JFK Airport in New York City was closed on Wednesday due to the diamondback terrapin mating season. More than 150 of the turtles crossed over the runway in search of nesting areas in the sand on the other side. It was not the first time that air traffic was disrupted for the turtles, but there were more than usual this year. Airport staff helped to carry the turtles across the tarmac to speed their journey. Officials were not clear as to how many flights were affected, but Runway 4 is not heavily scheduled during the summer months.

Thief Stuck in School AC Vents

Firefighters had to cut open a roof vent at Charles Hay World School in Englewood, Colorado to rescue a thief. The unnamed 28-year-old had been stuck inside for 15 hours! Police responded to a call and found the man stuck 30 feet deep in the vent. He told police that he had stolen a purse and threw it on the roof of the elementary school. When he went to retrieve it, he fell down the vent and became wedged tightly.

Shakespeare Exhumation Proposed

A team of researchers want to dig up William Shakespeare's body to find out if he partooketh marijuana. Pipes recovered during an excavation of Shakespeare's garden in 2001 showed evidence of both cannabis and cocaine. Now, South African anthropologist Francis Thackeray has formally requested permission from the Church of England for an exhumation. They do not intend to remove Shakespeare's remains from his burial site, but want to examine the body for signs of drug use after determining the identity of the remains.

Elderly Woman Fed Cannabis to Rabbits

Police in Brandenburg, Germany found a plot of marijuana plants. During their investigation, they talked to an elderly woman who said she had been feeding the weeds to her pet rabbits.

“The rabbits really like it,” the woman told officers who called on her in the village of Golzow near Belzig, according to Saturday’s Tagesspiegel.

A police officer had seen the healthy, metre-high plants from the road while on his way to work and told his colleagues, who visited the plot’s owner – the elderly woman.

She told them that she had not grown the plants herself, but that they had simply started growing there, and had proven to be excellent rabbit food. Not only did the rabbits love eating the plants, they grew back very quickly after she cut them down, she told the investigating officers.

Officers did not charge the woman, but did cut the plants down.

A Dog on the Witness Stand

An 11-year-old golden retriever named Rosie was the star of the courtroom last week when she accompanied a 15-year-old crime victim to the witness stand. Rosie is a member of Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD), and was present to comfort the witness and help her keep her composure as she pointed out the man who sexually abused her for years. Although the defense attorney objected to the dog's presence, the district attorney was all for it. Rosie's appearance in court was the first time a dog has participated in a trial in New York, but the same procedure has been used in New Mexico and Florida before. Rosie behaved well during her time on the stand.

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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