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The Weird Week in Review

Woman Dials 911 to Complain About Mugshot

Tonya Ann Fowler of Winder, Georgia, called the Barrow County 911 dispatch to complain that her mugshot in the local publication “Bad & Busted” was less than flattering. There is no mention of what her prior arrest was for. Later that same day, Fowler called 911 to complain that some residents wouldn't let her leave her belongings in their home. Officers met Fowler at the address she complained about and she was arrested for misuse of 911. And the 45-year-old woman got what she apparently wanted: her mugshot was taken again for the new charges.

Man Uses Obituary for Confession

Val Patterson of Salt Lake City, Utah, prepared his own obituary ahead of time. In it, he got a lot of things off his chest. As in secrets he had kept for many years.

Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the U of U, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn't even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters "PhD" even stood for.

If this sort of thing catches on, it may make the obituary column the most popular part of the newspaper sites. Read the entire obituary at The Salt Lake Tribune.

Naked Rambler Walks out of Prison -Naked

Stephen Gough of Scotland is better known by his nickname, "The Naked Rambler." He was first arrested for public nudity in 2003, and has been in solitary confinement in Scotland for the past six years. However, officials have determined that Gough is not going to stop walking around naked. So they freed him. And he walked home naked. Scotland's laws against public nudity are stricter than those of England and Wales, but Gough was deemed to be no threat to the public. The Naked Rambler says he won't compromise on his principles, but he told authorities he would stay away from busy public roads.

Once in a Lifetime Tattoo Misspelled

Jerri Peterson of Atlanta, Georgia, was thrilled with the chance to carry the Olympic Flame in the torch relay as it passed through Derby, England. She was selected to participate because of her charity work. The 54-year-old Peterson decided to get a tattoo as a souvenir of the relay, and only afterward realized that it was misspelled. The word "Olympic" was rendered in ink as "Oylmpic." Peterson did not notice the misspelling until she had sent pictures of her new tattoo to a friend. Her initial disappointment gave way to laughter. She told the tattoo artist, but refused his offer to correct it, because as Peterson said, "...it's as unique as I am."

Damaged Street Signs Linked to Prostitutes

Officials in Auckland, New Zealand have encountered over 40 street signs that have been bent or broken in one neighborhood over the past 18 months. Thousands of dollars have been spent to replace them. Who is to blame? Ladies of the night, plying their trades in the street. They use the street signs as dancing poles for a form of advertising. One local council member said, "Some of the prostitutes are big, strong people." Now, doesn't that paint a picture!

French Cows Drink Wine

Studies show that happy animals provide better-tasting meat. Taking a cue from that idea, Languedoc-Roussillon winemaker Jean-Charles Tastavy and cattle farmer Claude Chaballier decided to experiment by giving beef cattle some wine with their feed.

“The cows appreciated the menu and ate with enjoyment,” Tastavy said.

And now, the French cows are getting a daily oenological infusion – of up to two bottles each. Tastavy explains they’ve scaled the cattle’s wine intake based on authorities’ recommended drinking habits: “For a person, we know it’s two or three glasses of wine a day. For a cow, that means 1 to 1.5 liters per day,” Tastavy told the AFP.

But the wine wasn’t boosting just the cows’ spirits. The growers found it also improved their taste. Michelin-starred chef Laurent Pourcel had a taste of the “viande de luxe” – luxury beef – and hedges that there’s a bustling market for it among a foodie crowd. It has a “very special texture, beautiful, marbled and tender, which caramelizes while cooking.”

The beef from these cows is quite a bit more expensive than other beef, because the cost of feeding each cow tripled with the addition of wine.

18 Police Officers Rescue Sex Doll from River

Police in Shandong Province, China, received a report of a body floating in a local river. Eighteen officers were dispatched to possibly save a drowning person, or recover a body. A crowd of around a thousand people gathered on the riverbank to watch the rescue. However, the "body" was quite a ways from shore, and after an hour spend on the operation, anyone could see that it was a life-size inflatable doll. The public was shown the plastic figure to calm their worries, and some parents covered their children's eyes when they realized what the "corpse" really was.

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
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]

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