The Weird Week in Review

Man Suffers Heart Attack at Heart Attack Grill

The Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas is a themed restaurant that serves large-serving high-calorie cuisine. It even offers free food for those who weigh over 350 pounds. The staff dress up as nurses and emergency workers, but they had to call the real paramedics last Saturday night. A customer was eating a "Triple Bypass Burger" when he suffered an apparent heart attack. The unnamed man was taken to a hospital, and was later heard to be alive and recuperating.

Calcutta is Going Blue

Calcutta, India, will join the list of cities that are painted predominantly blue. The rulers of the city government have adopted the motto "the sky is the limit," and want buildings to match. Any government buildings, flyovers, roadside railings, and taxis to be repainted will be given a new sky blue color. Ministers are also asking private property owners to go along with the scheme and paint their buildings blue, but will not provide funds for the paint. Calcutta is home to 14 million people.

Fugitive Calls Cops for Assistance

Richard Vincent of Prineville, Oregon was wanted in Georgia for parole violation. The 59-year-old fugitive was driving through Wyoming when his car ran out of gas. He called the Uinta County Sheriff's Office to request assistance. Officers responded, all right, and took Vincent into custody. He is being held in Wyoming awaiting extradition to Georgia.

Cashing a $100 Check Leads to $3.3 Million in Damages

Rodolfo Valladares went into a Florida Bank of America branch in 2008 to cash a $100 check. Instead, he was arrested for bank robbery. The teller thought Valladares was a bank robber that they were told to look out for because he was wearing a Miami Heat hat. However, that was the only way Valladares resembled the robber, who was described as much older and skinnier. Valladares did not act suspiciously and did not have a weapon. The police handcuffed and kicked him in the head before bank employees told the officers it was a false alarm. Valladares sued, and was recently awarded $3.3 million after a jury found the bank negligent.

The Most Famous Sack Lunch of the Week

A preschooler in Raeford, North Carolina, was given a school cafeteria lunch when her sack lunch was deemed inadequate by school nutritional standards. The 4-year-old girl ate three chicken nuggets from the cafeteria meal. Her mother, who had packed a turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice, received a note about the incident which implied she may be charged for the school lunch. She then complained to a state legislator and a local TV station. The story was picked up nationally, leading to condemnation of overly-intrusive government regulations. Jani Kozlowski of the state's Division of Child Development said there was nothing wrong with the bagged lunch, and the parent should not have been charged for the cafeteria meal. She hinted that the school may need more "technical assistance," meaning training in the regulations. The school later explained that the incident was a mistake by a teacher, and that the child should have just been given a carton of milk instead of being sent through the cafeteria line.

Woman Sues for All Titanic Profits

Princess Samantha Kennedy of Imperial Beach, California, has filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures, claiming the script for the movie Titanic was lifted from her writing. She is demanding that all copies of the film be destroyed, and all profits from the movie be awarded to her. That would run to billions of dollars! Kennedy says the story came from her unpublished autobiography and family history. Kennedy left several comments disputing some of the facts in the news story, and became part of the discussion.

2-hour Standoff with an Empty Car

Police in San Diego thought they'd identified a suspect in a home invasion -an unnamed man who is on parole. The man in question called his parole officer to report his car had broken down on the interstate, and that he would be late for a meeting. Officers found the car on the side of the highway and demanded the suspect give himself up. After a two-hour standoff, during which time a police dog was dispatched and the trunk of the car was smashed, police moved in to find that there was no one in the car. The suspect is still at large, and is considered dangerous.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.