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The Weird Week in Review

Curry-Eating Contest Sends Two To Hospital

Kismot in Edinburgh, Scotland is a restaurant known for its hot chili pepper curry. It staged a curry-eating contest this past Saturday to benefit the Children's Hospice Association Fund. Contestants ate spoonfuls of increasingly hot curry until they dropped out. Local patron Mike Lavin make it to fifth place and American Curie Kim came in second as others cried, screamed, and threw up, then dropped out. Both were later taken to a hospital (Kim twice). Although the restaurant may have to pay the medical bills, they raised £1000 ($1546) for the charity.

Koala Survives Impact and Grill Ride

Mark and Caroline Harris of Eagleby, Queensland, Australia, were driving along the Pacific Motorway Tuesday night when they hit an animal. Mark Harris thought it was a cat, and he pulled over at the next off ramp to check for damage. He was surprised to find a koala lodged in his car's grill. The koala was alive, but choking on a piece of plastic around its neck. Harris pried the plastic away with a tire iron and took the koala, now named Kenny, to a veterinary hospital. Harris returned to visit Kenny a couple of days later and was pleased to see the koala is recovering from his mishap.

The Homecoming Queen's Got a Kick

For the first time ever, Pinckney Community High School in Michigan crowned a homecoming queen they had to summon from the locker room. Brianna Amat received the title while wearing her football uniform, complete with shoulder pads. But that wasn't the end of the 18-year-old field goal kicker's big night last Friday. She also won the game.

A short while later, with five minutes to play in the third quarter, Amat was called to the same field to attempt a 31-yard field goal. She split the uprights.

The kick proved decisive as Pinckney held on for a 9-7 victory against a Grand Blanc team that had come into the game ranked seventh in the state in its division. It also earned Amat the nickname the Kicking Queen.

Amat, who maintains a 4.0 GPA and is active in student government, is an experienced soccer player and the first girl to make the school's varsity football squad.

Cat Leads RSPCA to Kittens

A witness in March, Cambridgeshire, England saw a black cat being thrown from a car. It took two weeks of feeding to capture the cat, which was then taken to an RSPCA shelter. Animal advocates cleaned and treated the cat (and named her Jolie), but discovered she had recently given birth, so she was returned to the area from which she was captured. Jolie called out, but it became apparent she wasn't calling the kittens, but to RSPCA inspector Jon Knight who accompanied her! The mother cat only moved forward when Knight moved to follow. Jolie led Knight to a stash of four dehydrated kittens behind a pile of wood. Knight said the kittens were so far from their starting point that there was no way he would have found them without Jolie's guidance. The kittens, so young their eyes were not open, were taken to the shelter and nursed back to health.

Whale Beached a Half-Mile Inland

A dead whale was found over 800 yards from shore in East Yorkshire, England. It was a relatively rare whale, too, a 33-foot-long female Sei whale. Sei whales have only been sighted three times in the past 20 years around England, as they normally stay in deep water. Experts believe the whale swam up the Humber estuary during the high equinox tide, and was stranded on land when the tide went out again. That explanation did not deter some from speculating that the whale dropped from the sky, or was placed on land by aliens.

Driverless Car Doing Doughnuts

Emergency crews responded to a report of a driverless car running in circles in Wildwood, New Jersey on Sunday. Wildwood Fire Captain Chris D’Amico eventually stopped the vehicle.

"I've never corralled a car before," D'Amico said.

D’Amico said that he found an opportunity to jump into the passenger-side window while he was standing inside the circle the car was making.

Comments at the story remembered Ford having recalls of vehicles from that era that would slip out of park into reverse gear. See a video of the car in action.

Girl Eats Muffin Containing $800 Gold Necklace

Xaio Li of Qingdao, Shangdong province, China, bought an $800 gold necklace for his girlfriend's 22nd birthday. He baked her a muffin and hid the necklace inside. You can see where this is going. The girlfriend, Wang Xue, ate the muffin and its contents in one gulp before he could warn her. Xaio described the necklace to Wang on the way to the local hospital, where the necklace was retrieved by endoscopic surgery, which involved putting a probe down her esophagus into her stomach.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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!

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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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