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The Weird Week in Review

Car Driven Into Wrong Apartment

An unnamed 25-year-old woman in Nelson, New Zealand, was angry after reading intimate text messages to her husband from another woman. With her husband in the passenger seat, she drove to the mistress' apartment complex. She drove through the gate and smashed into someone else's garage. The driver pleaded guilty to causing around $43,000 in property damage. There is no word on the state of the marriage.

Fisherman Lands 200-pound Catch

John Goldfinch was fishing with his friends on the beach at Budleigh Salterton, Devon, England when he felt the tug of something really big. Hoping for the catch of his life, Goldfinch struggled to land the massive fish. But he could not keep his trophy, as his hook had snagged the crotch of a scuba diver!

Mr Goldfinch, of Exmouth, said: "My mates were falling about laughing. I said 'sorry mate, I didn't see you there' and he just said it was very murky down there.

"The funniest thing was that his girlfriend then surfaced, helped him remove my tackle from his tackle and nonchalantly handed the hook back to me and apologised.

Giant Lobster Becomes Coney Island Freak

While a typical lobster meal involves a crustacean of one to two pounds, an 18 pound lobster was caught off the coast of Canada and sent with a shipment to a seafood company in San Francisco. The company's bookkeeper recognized the rarity of a lobster of such size and posted an ad online to find it a home. The lobster was named Big Red and is estimated to be about 75 years old. The New York Aquarium in Coney Island responded and had Big Red shipped to the east coast. Now he is on display at the aquarium, which is run by the Wildlife Conservation Society. Big Red has proved to be a very popular exhibit.

Dump Truck Dangles from Third Floor

A New York City salt truck smashed through the wall of a three-story parking garage in Queens Tuesday. The truck stopped, leaving the cab hanging out of the building with the driver, 56-year-old Robert Legall, inside. Over 100 firefighters responded to the scene, and rescued the driver using a tower ladder truck within a half hour. The driver was hospitalized with neck and back injuries. If the photos are any evidence, it was a very frightening half hour for Legall. Bricks fell to the ground, but no one else was injured when the accident occurred.

Bullock Rescued from Ladder

A young bull was spotted in South Ayrshire, Scotland in a delicate situation. His head was wedged into a ladder. Passers-by called the SPCA to report the problem. The farmer who owns the animal was contacted and said he had no idea how that happened. It wasn't even his ladder! The SPCA inspector thought someone was pulling his leg until he saw the animal. After the herd was rounded up and secured, the inspector and the farmer managed to wrestle the ladder from the bullock's head.

Police Chase Forklift

Police in Forth Worth, Texas, chased a shirtless man driving a stolen forklift through city streets. The forklift had been taken from a construction site.

A witness videotaped the chase and then posted it to YouTube. He and his roommate had stopped for gas on University Drive when they saw the forklift go by.

Nathan Lowery said he was stunned as he watched the shirtless suspect raise and lower the forks. It looked like the man was trying to antagonize police, he said.

“When we passed him, the guy was standing up chugging a beer and threw it at the cop car behind him,” Lowery said.

Timothy Raines was eventually arrested on the interstate highway.

Kitten Dropped into Landfill by Hawk

A tiny black and white kitten was found at a dump in Nanaimo, British Columbia, and taken to the local SPCA shelter. He had been dropped there by a red-tailed hawk! Staff at the shelter noted talon punctures in his side, as well as an injured foot that had begun healing. Shelter staff named the kitten Hawk, and he will be adopted out when fully recovered. The red-tailed hawks are employed by the dump to keep pigeons away.

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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