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The Weird Week in Review

Woman in Speeding Car Fakes Labor Pains

Police in New Zealand were chasing a car speeding at over 90 miles per hour, and were about to lay spikes in the road to stop it, when the driver stopped near the town of Tauranga. He told officers that he was rushing his passenger, who appeared to be in labor, to the hospital to give birth. An ambulance was summoned to rush the pregnant woman to the emergency room. Later, officers called the hospital and discovered the patient had signed herself out shortly after arriving. The cops, angry at the waste of resources, later found and arrested the 23-year-old driver.

Horse Rescued from Basement

A family in Elbert County, Colorado awoke to find their horse Summer trapped in the home's basement. The horse had fallen into the cellar through a window well.

“We thought of bringing her up the basement stairs,” Heap said. “But the stairs didn’t look safe enough to support her weight.”

A veterinarian sedated Summer, who sustained minor cuts and injuries in the fall, and a coring company was contacted to cut into the foundation of the home. The initial plan was to expose an area around a second window well, remove a portion of the foundation and create enough space to bring the horse out of the basement, Heap said.

When the crew had removed enough material around the window, Summer walked out on her own.

Man Defends Business with Tractor

In Alta, Norway, 66-year-old Harald Mikkelsen stopped a thief who was trying to leave his store. Mikkelsen thwarted a getaway by lifting the perpetrator's car with his tractor! Mikkelson only lowered the car when police arrived, 45 minutes later. The incident was captured on video by tourists, and Mikkelsen has become a national celebrity for his actions last Friday.

21 Tons of Mustard and Ketchup

Thieves in Vienna, Austria made off with 21 tons of mustard and ketchup. A truck driver went to work Monday to find the trailer, which was loaded with the condiments, had been stolen from his truck. Authorities are on the lookout for the missing mustard as well as the $22,000 trailer, which is believed to have been the actual target of the theft.

Boise Hires Weed Eaters

The city of Boise, Idaho is trying a new method for controlling the invasive rush skeletonweed. A herd of 600 goats has been brought in by a company named We Rent Goats to eat the weeds off the 680-acre Polecat Gulch Reserve. City officials say the cost of the goats is comparable to spraying chemicals, but better for the environment. Using goats is also safer as they can reach places in the rocky hills that would be hazardous for humans to roam. The goats are expected to work for about a week, or until the weeds are deemed under control.

"Dumb and Dumber"

Ryan Letchford and Jeffrey Olsen, both of Marlton, New Jersey, thought it would be funny to photograph themselves appearing to get arrested in Radnor, Pennsylvania. They got into a police van belonging to constable Mike Connor and shut the door -and found themselves locked in. A friend tried to free them, but couldn't, and called 911. Responders woke Constable Connor, who unlocked the van.

"I came down and unlocked the doors, and 'Dumb and Dumber' pranced out of the van," Connor said. "They looked a little embarrassed."

Inside the van, officers found cigarette butts and "a large amount of saliva," police said. It's unclear why the men apparently were spitting in the van.

Letchford and Olsen were arrested for real on charges of attempted car theft, criminal mischief, and public drunkenness.

Dachshund Saves Owner and Inspires Recovery

Tom McKinney of Yuba City, California fell off a ladder and couldn't move. His neck was broken. His 10-year-old dachshund Chelse was the one who found him. No one else was around, so McKinney told Chelse to get help -and she did, by waking McKinney's sleeping wife and alerting her to the emergency. Now, Chelse is inspiring McKinney to walk again. After all, the little dachshund learned to walk again after she'd broken her back seven years ago. McKinney said if she could do it, he could, too. Two months after the accident, he is getting around with a walker, and has set his sights on walking without support.

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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:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

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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