CLOSE
Original image

8 Accidental Charitable Donations

Original image

You know how you hold on to some stupid kitchen item for like eight years, then decide that you’ve used it once and donate it to Goodwill? Then the next week, you find yourself in critical need of that garlic press for the first time since the Clinton administration?

Now imagine that garlic press was worth $13,000.

People accidentally give away family heirlooms or other valuables surprisingly often. Here are eight of those stories — some with happy endings, and others where people wish they'd never cleaned out their closets.

1. An 80-year-old Illinois man was getting rid of some clothes and decided a suit was past its prime. After he dropped it and other discarded items off at Goodwill and went home to enjoy his decluttered house, the man realized he had made a $13,000 mistake. Not trusting the banks, he had sewn his entire life savings in the lining of an old suit - the suit he had decided to donate just hours earlier. He immediately returned to the store, but the suit was nowhere to be found. He’s still looking for it, actually. Photo via Goodwill.org.


2. Last summer, a worker at a Goodwill near Chicago was sorting through a bunch of jewelry donations when she found a metal bracelet stamped with “CMS CHARLES D. KING, 25 DEC 68.” Suspecting it might be a POW/MIA bracelet from Vietnam, the worker researched Charles King and discovered he had a sister living in Iowa. When the jewelry was returned to King’s sister, an amazing coincidence was discovered: she also worked at Goodwill.

3. If you’re shopping at a Goodwill in Illinois, be sure to check the pockets of the clothes, because apparently valuables are left at thrift stores in the Land of Lincoln quite often. In 2008, a worker at a store in Glen Carbon discovered $7,500 in cash stashed in a donated shoebox.

By inspecting some other bits of paper left in the box, they were able to locate the donor. His parents had recently died and had thrown the box in the “to donate” pile without inspecting its contents.

4. In 2010, a Goodwill in Maple Grove, Minnesota, found a stack of cash in the pocket of a donated coat. Spokespeople wouldn’t reveal exactly how much was found, but said that finding an amount this large was quite rare. No word on if the accidental donor was ever found.

5. Unintentional gifts happen at the Salvation Army, too. A bride-to-be in San Diego hollowed out a book to use as a hiding place for jewelry she intended to wear at her upcoming wedding, including a family heirloom. She also stashed about $7,000 along with it. Perhaps on a cleaning spree to make room for wedding gifts, the bride cleared out a bunch of books and donated them to a Salvation Army trailer. She called as soon as she realized her mistake, and with the help of a Salvation Army major, managed to locate her missing valuables.

6. In 2005, a family donated most of their recently deceased grandmother’s possessions to the Salvation Army in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The only thing they decided to keep was a diary. When they got around to flipping through the diary several weeks after making the donation, they discovered she had hidden a large amount of cash in plastic Easter eggs, intending to surprise her family with an Easter egg hunt they would never forget. She passed away before Easter and the eggs were donated, presumably with a number of other holiday knickknacks the family didn’t even think twice about. As far as I can tell, the eggs were never returned.

7. Let this be a lesson to those of you who like to clean out your significant others’ closets when they’re not home. One Colorado wife did just that, and when her husband discovered that his wardrobe was a little lighter, he became quite distraught. Apparently his hidey hole was an old wallet in the pocket of a pair of ancient Levi's, and his wife had inadvertently donated a “two-inch thick” stack of bills to the Salvation Army. Luckily, the pair was able to get back to the store and locate their bags before workers had even started sorting through them.

8. Compared to some of these stories, a missing book worth $400 doesn’t seem like much of a crisis. But when it’s a family heirloom with a personalized inscription on the inside cover, the loss really stings. A man accidentally donated the book “The Grim Glory of the 2/19 Battalion AIF” to a local book fair. It contained a story about his father, a field doctor with the battalion during WWII, and a handwritten dedication to his dad from the book’s editor. The book fair’s coordinator discovered the book and knew it must have been accidentally donated. She was able to find the owner and return it nearly a month after it was donated.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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
Opening Ceremony
fun
arrow
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
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]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES