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The Weird Week in Review

Girl Lost in Tsunami Found 7 Years Later

When a tsunami swept over Indonesia on December 26, 2004, one of the victims was an 8-year-old girl named Wati. She was swept away in the waters and although her body was never found, her family eventually faced the fact that she had died. However, the now-15-year-old turned up in her hometown of Ujong Baroh in West Aceh! She told workers in a cafe that she was looking for her family, but couldn't remember their names, except that her grandfather was named Ibrahim. Wati was reunited with her grandfather and her overjoyed parents, who confirmed the girl's identity by a scar she received when she was six. It is believed that Wati spent the past seven years wandering Indonesia trying to find her way home.

Man Wins, Crashes Lamborghini

David Dopp of Santaquin, Utah entered a contest and won a 640-horsepower Lamborghini Murcielago Roadster valued at $380,000 last month. He picked the car up on Saturday, and took a few spins to show it off to family and friends. Dopp said he was only going 40 or 50 miles an hour when he hit ice or gravel on a curve and lost control of the car. It crashed through fence posts and into a field. The car sustained front-end damage, scratches, and a punctured wheel. No one was injured. The good news? The Lamborghini is insured.

Corn Stolen from Moving Train

Thieves made off with 50 tonnes of corn taken from a moving train as it was traveling through an area 300 miles from Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Police reports state that the thieves greased the train track beforehand, causing the 54-wagon vehicle to slow down due to uneasy controls. The criminals then proceeded to use a tow truck to remove the containers of corn.

The a-maizing highjacking went smooth as silk, so the kernel of truth is that the thieves stalked the train ahead of time.

Taxidermy Artist Used Endangered Species Parts

Enrique Gomez De Molina creates fantastic animals by splicing together parts of unrelated species as an art form. He was arrested in November for illegally importing some parts of endangered species, namely a dead mouse deer and slow loris, plus the skins of several birds, all from Indonesia. Police said he knew the imports were illegal because he asked that the parts be wrapped in carbon paper. De Molina pleaded guilty this week and will be sentenced in March. The penalty could be as high as five years in jail and a $250,000 fine. The fine should be no problem, as De Molina's works go for high dollars.

Man Eats Cocaine from Bother's Butt and Dies

Two brothers, Deangelo Mitchell and Wayne Mitchell, were detained in a police car while officers searched their vehicle in Charleston, South Carolina. Deangelo had cocaine hidden up his backside, and was afraid of being caught with it. He convinced his younger brother Wayne to ingest the cocaine to destroy the evidence. Soon after, Wayne began having difficulty breathing and died within an hour. He had eaten about an ounce of cocaine. Deangelo Mitchell has now been charged with cocaine distribution and involuntary manslaughter in the death of his brother.

Space Ball Falls from Sky

In a story reminiscent of the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, a large metal ball dropped out of the sky onto a remote area of Namibia. The 14-inch-diameter ball left a crater almost four meters wide and 33 centimeters deep when it fell into a grassy field. It was retrieved about 18 meters away from the crater. Residents reported hearing several explosions in the days before the object was found. Local police inspector Vilho Hifindaka determined the object was not explosive. Authorities have contacted NASA and the European Space Agency to identify the object, believed to be a piece of space junk.

Letter to Santa Found in Chimney is 100 Years Old

John Byrne was installing a new central heating unit in his home in Dublin in 1992 when he found a letter in the fireplace. It was a little scorched, but still readable.

On Christmas Eve 1911, a brother and sister, who signed their names, “A or H Howard”, penned their personally designed letter to Santa with their requests for gifts and a good luck message at their home in Oaklands Terrace, Terenure (or Terurnure, as the children spelled it) in Dublin.

They placed it in the chimney of the fireplace in the front bedroom so that Santa would see it as he made his way into the Howard household in the early hours of the morning.

A check of the 1911 census lead Byrne to believe the children were 10-year-old Hannah Howard and her seven-year-old brother Fred, who lived at the address with their parents and older sister.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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