CLOSE

The Weird Week in Review

Dog Shoots Man

A man in Brigham City, Utah was shot by his own dog during a duck hunt. The unnamed man and a friend were hunting Sunday using a boat. The man laid his 12-gauge shotgun across the bow while getting out. That's when the dog jumped up on the bow and stepped on the gun. The gun fired and sent 27 pellets of buckshot into the hunter's buttocks. The injuries were not life-threatening because the man was about ten feet away from the gun and wearing waders. He is expected to fully recover, except for the embarrassment.

Pepper-spraying Shopper Released

Remember the woman who pepper-sprayed Walmart shoppers on Black Friday? She turned herself in to authorities on Saturday. Los Angeles police interviewed witnesses and watched security camera footage of the incident and decided to let the unnamed 32-year-old woman go. Although it was first reported that she sprayed other shoppers in order to get to a discounted Xbox, video evidence suggests that she may have sprayed in defense, in fear of being crushed by the crowd. No charges have been filed in the incident.

Sheriff Held in Jail Named After Him

Former Arapahoe County (Colorado) Sheriff Patrick Sullivan was named the national "Sheriff of the Year" in 2001. He retired in 2002. Tuesday, Sullivan was arrested on charges of trading methamphetamine for sex. The investigation started on November 17th. The 68-year-old Sullivan was lodged in the Patrick J. Sullivan, Jr. Detention Facility, which was named in his honor. A hearing is set for December 5th.

Gigantic Baby Born in Berlin

A 13-pound (6 kg) baby boy set a new record for the largest baby born by natural delivery in Germany. The unidentified 528-pound mother had gestational diabetes, but opted for a vaginal delivery at Berlin’s Charité hospital instead of a caesarian section. The woman claimed she did not know of her diabetes. She had previously delivered nine baby boys and four baby girls, four of which were born at over eleven pounds. The woman named her 14th child Jihad.

Trail of Pine Needles Led to Christmas Tree Thieves

Three men were arrested for theft from the Notcutt Garden Centre in Pembury, Kent, England. They broke two CCTV cameras, but did not see others that caught their movements. Police cars cut off the garden center's exits, then moved in to catch one thief making an escape and two hiding among the shrubs. A trail of pine needles let to a van, where the men had stashed 138 cut trees and 48 boxes of Christmas lights, worth about £7,000. The three Grinches who tried to steal Christmas later pleaded guilty to theft charges.

Man Sues Couple He Kidnapped

In 2009, Jesse Dimmick entered the home of Jared and Lindsay Rowley in Topeka, Kansas, and held them at knifepoint for a couple of hours. The three watched the movie Patch Adams and had snacks. When Dimmick fell asleep, the couple escaped and police, who had been in pursuit of Dimmick over a murder and a car theft, arrested him. Dimmick was shot during the arrest.

Various lawsuits followed. Dimmick sued the city of Topeka over the shooting, and (possibly because of the prospect that he might get money from that suit) the Rowleys sued Dimmick last September for trespass, intrusion and negligent infliction of emotional distress. That seems to have given Dimmick the idea to sue the Rowleys, and he brought a counterclaim against them for breach of contract.

You see, Dimmick alleges that, after breaking into the Rowleys' home with a knife and gun, they all then sat down and hashed out a deal under which they would hide him from police (the police who were right outside) for an unspecified amount of money. "Later," he complained, "the Rowleys reneged on said oral contract, resulting in my being shot in the back by authorities." Ergo, breach of contract.

An attorney for the Rowleys says, of course, that any contract with Dimmick is not valid.

1,068 Meter Yule Log Cake

It's a new world record for a Christmas yule log cake, measuring in at 3,503.94 feet. The cake was a team effort, requiring the talents of 80 chefs from the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel in Shanghai, China. The cake contains 904 eggs, 2,304 pounds of flour, 461 pounds of sugar, 884 pounds of chocolate, and 75 pounds of vanilla. The previous record for a yule log cake was set just last year at 681 feet. The original plan in Shanghai was to make a 2,913-foot cake, but the extra length may help ensure that this record stands for some time.

12-hour Cat Rescue Attempt Fails

A pregnant cat named Puss Puss had been missing for three days in the village of Moelfre in North Wales. She had escaped while being transported to a foster home by an animal charity worker. Then someone heard a meowing sound coming from a donation bin for used clothing! But the lock on the bin had been damaged, and it wouldn't open. The fire brigade was called, and they, too, failed to open the bin. Finally, the entire bin was loaded up and taken 20 miles to an engineering company. Engineers used steel saws to dismantle the bin, and the source of the meowing was found. The sounds came from a talking plush toy! The stuffed kitten resembled the character Marie from the Disney movie The Aristocats. Rescuers had a good laugh at the 12-hour effort to save the toy. Puss Puss is still missing, but may have been taken in by someone unaware of the search.

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
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

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