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The Weird Week in Review

Famous Photo on Fake I.D.

Police in Recife, Brazil, arrested Ricardo Sergio Freire de Barros on charges of fraud after he tried to open a bank account using a fake identity. The name on the fraudulent identification card was Joao Pedro dos Santos, but the picture clearly showed an image of American movie star Jack Nicholson. The 41-year-old Barros apparently does not look that much like the infinitely-recognizable 71-year-old Nicholson. Barros was charged with falsification of a public document.

Tazer Ball

Leif Kellenberger, Erik Wunsch, and Eric Prumm invented a new sport. It resembles a normal ball game, in which two teams try to run a ball past the opposing team into a goal, but there is on difference: each player is armed with an electric stun gun. The stun guns are used against whoever is carrying the ball. In Tazer ball, a player can get stunned dozens of times in a game.

The first official Ultimate Tazer Ball tournament was in January and there are currently four official professional UTB teams: the Philadelphia Killawatts, the San Diego Spartans, the Toronto Terror and the Los Angeles Nightlight.

Kellenberger said the teams play at tournaments for prizes, but he and his co-founders are in talks with various networks for a TV deal that could pay the players.

Of course, the sport has its critics. Some people think using stun guns in a game is unsafe.

Watermelon-sized Pine Cones

The Baw Baw Council has issued a warning to residents about the danger of falling pine cones. A 120-year-old bunya pine in Warragul, Victoria, Australia, had begun releasing cones, which can weigh up to ten kilograms! The tree is 20 meters tall, so the falling cones present a real danger. Council workers have been removing the cones from the tree as fast as they can before they fall.

Google Street View Sued Over Urination Image

The Google Street View team caught a resident of a French village in the Maine-et-Loire region peeing in his own garden. Attorney Jean-Noel Bouillaud filed the suit on behalf of his unnamed client. The man wants his picture removed, and says he has become an object of ridicule in his small village. A lawyer for Google says the suit is "implausible."

Leap Day Families

What are the odds? Michelle Birnbaum of New Jersey was born on Leap Day 32 years ago, and then gave birth to a daughter four years ago, also on Leap Day. So her daughter was born on her seventh birthday. Those who crunch the numbers say the odds are about two million to one. Considering how many people there are in the U.S., it should happen again.

And it did. Shaneka Hinton of Orlando, Florida, was born on Leap Day in 1988. Wednesday, she turned 24, although it was only her sixth birthday. Hinton spent the day in the maternity ward as she gave birth to Christina Raynette Clemente, yet another Leap Day baby! And what's more -Hinton's son was born on the Fourth of July. Now Hinton and her daughter will be able to celebrate their birthdays together -once every four years.

Father Arrested Over Daughter's Artwork

Jessie Sansone of Kitchener, Ontario, was arrested at his daughter's school on Wednesday, but found out why only hours later. His 4-year-old daughter had drawn a picture of a man holding a gun, and school officials suspected she had seen a gun in the home. The girl had told them, “That’s my daddy’s. He uses it to shoot bad guys and monsters.” Sansone was told he was arrested for firearm possession. His wife was brought in for an interview with child welfare workers. The school principal explained that they were obligated by law to report any suspicion of child endangerment. The child welfare agency chose to call the police, who arrested and searched the father, but found no evidence of firearm possession. After he was released, Sansone gave permission for a search of his house, and no firearm was found.

Man Calls 911 to Report Being Invisible

An unnamed 28-year-old man in Barrow County, Georgia called emergency services to report that he was invisible. Both sheriff's deputies and paramedics responded to the call, and found that the man was not invisible, but wanted a ride to the hospital because he was out of medicine. Records show the man had an arrest record for criminal trespass and failure to appear. Police told him to "dry up" on the medicine and warned that if he called again for a non-emergency, he would be arrested.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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