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The Weird Week in Review

Banana Attacks Gorilla

The Wireless Center, a Verizon outlet in Strongsville, Ohio, was staging a promotion on June 29th featuring their mascot, a man dressed as a gorilla. Police were called because a man dressed as a banana walked in and attacked the gorilla! The banana then fled on foot with four unidentified men. Police did not find the banana. The gorilla was uninjured, but embarrassed.

Chestnut Wins Fifth Hot Dog Title

The annual July 4th hot dog eating contest was held Monday in front of Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs in Coney Island. And once again, American Joey Chestnut defeated all the others by scarfing down 62 hot dogs.

It wasn't a personal best for the 27-year-old nicknamed Jaws, but it was enough to out-eat second-place finisher Patrick Bertoletti by nine wieners. Chestnut, of San Jose, Calif., won $10,000 and the coveted mustard-yellow belt.

"I feel great!" he said after the contest, adding that he was going to drink a lot of water and avoid hot dogs for a few days.

In a separate division for women, Sonya Thomas ate 40 hot dogs to claim the pink belt championship.

Astronaut Survives Intentional Homeopathic Overdose

A group of Swedish scientists, including astronaut/physicist Christer Fuglesang, staged a deliberate overdose of homeopathic medicine to highlight its efficacy -or rather, its lack of efficacy. Homeopathy is based on the idea that a remedy grows stronger as it is diluted with more water. In Sweden, where such therapy is popular, homeopathic medicines must be diluted with water 10,000 times the amount of the active ingredient. Fuglesang and the others took ten times the normal amount of Coffea Alfaplex, a homeopathic sleeping pill. After the experiment, Fuglesang told a newspaper he felt fine, no better and no worse.

Man Freed from Gas Tank

Earr Stokes of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, looked into the gas tank of a car he'd taken to a garage to get a tire changed. He saw that someone had stuck a chocolate bar into the tank, so he reached in to retrieve it. But his hand became stuck in the filler pipe, and eventually his cousin summoned help. After trying to pull the hand out, firefighters had to cut the pipe from the tank, while one fireman stood by with a water hose just in case a spark from the saw ignited the gas. Once freed from the car, Stokes walked to a waiting ambulance, where paramedics removed the pipe from his fingers.

Duct Tape Used for Ducks

Passersby on Victory Road in Boise, Idaho, noticed something going on in the storm drain. A mother duck was hovering over the drain, and ducklings could be heard trapped below. A small crowd gathered, and the animal lovers wrapped duct tape, sticky side out, on the end of a stick. They used the homemade instrument and a pool skimmer to retrieve three ducklings and reunite them with the mother duck. The story did not say whether the tape used was Duck brand.

Nation's Most Expensive Gas Prices Displayed Temporarily

The most expensive gas station in the United States is Sun Gas near Orlando International Airport, but you won't know it by looking -they refuse to display the prices on a sign. The city passed an ordinance requiring that prices be posted, but Sun would rather pay the $250-a-day fine than show passing motorists that their gas is $5.79 a gallon. So last Thursday, a local artist did it for them.

Performance artist Brian Feldman, known for off-the-wall art, spent nearly six muggy hours in front of the station. Around his neck hung a gas station-style sign with Sun Gas' current prices for a gallon of regular, mid-grade and premium.

"This is an art installation, and I am playing the role of the sign. Hopefully, they'll do the right thing and post their prices. But if they don't, I'll do my best to make sure they get the attention they deserve," said Feldman, who was alternately cursed and praised by passing motorists trying to puzzle out his connection to the station.

Cop in Golf Cart Eventually Catches Fleeing Suspect

A sheriff's deputy in Lehigh Acres, Florida, chased a domestic battery suspect on foot through several backyards and down streets in a gated community. The officer than commandeered an electric golf cart from one of the residents. He continued to chase the suspect, who was on foot, for almost two more miles! Eventually, Jeremiah Ellarius Haynes had to stop and rest, and that's when the deputy nabbed him. Haynes was charged with battery and resisting arrest.

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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:

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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