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The Weird Week in Review

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Surprise Parking Violation

Hila Ben-Baruch parked her car on the street outside her home in Tel Aviv, Israel. Later the same day, she was shocked to find that her car had been towed away, and the parking spot was now designated as a handicapped parking space! Apparently, the lines had been painted while her car was still parked in the spot. When she called the municipal call center about it, they accused her of lying and said she would have to pay 350 shekels ($95) to get her car back, plus the fine for parking in a handicap space.

Ben-Baruch's Facebook post about the incident went viral. Refusing to give up, Ben-Baruch went to an office building overlooking the parking spot and obtained security camera footage.

In the footage, a pair of Tel Aviv municipal workers are seen painting the spot with Ben-Baruch's car still there. Shortly thereafter, a tow truck comes to take Ben-Baruch's car away.

Confronted with the evidence, city officials rescinded the fine and towing fee, and apologized.

Mistrial Declared When Victim's Eyeball Falls Out

A punch during a bar brawl in 2011 caused John Huttick to lose his left eye. Huttick sued Matthew Brunelli in Philadelphia over the incident. Huttick was on the witness stand Wednesday telling his side of the story when he lost his eye again -the glass prosthetic popped out in the courtroom. At least two jurors gasped and acted as if they wanted to leave. The judge immediately declared a mistrial due to the incident. The judge said it was an "unfortunate, unforeseen incident," and set a new trial date for March 4th.

Shoplifting 24 Quarts of Oil

Jorge Sanchez was spotted leaving a Costco store in Burbank, California, without paying for 24 quarts of motor oil. He had broken open cases of oil and stuffed the bottles into his clothing and strapped some to his body with bungee cords. Employees chased Sanchez for eight blocks, while quarts of oil fell along the way. Witnesses report that Sanchez was "running funny," which is no surprise. Sanchez finally stopped and complained that he couldn't breathe. When police searched Sanchez's car, they found an additional 50 quarts of oil, and are investigating where they may have originated.

Thieves Left with Right Shoes …But Not Left

A shoe shop in Exeter, England had a rack of lady's shoes and children's snow boots displayed on the sidewalk outside the store. Some time Monday night or Tuesday morning, someone stole the entire rack! They won't be able to use or sell the shoes, however, because only one shoe -the right one- of each pair was on the rack. Since the shoes will be useless to the thieves, police have appealed to the perpetrators to return the goods. Anyone with information is asked to contact the local Crimestoppers unit.

The Funniest Traffic Jam Outside of Hollywood

The car was small, but the road was tiny. A motorist in Naples, Italy, tried to turn around and avoid parked cars on both sides, but became stuck sideways in the street. Cars wanted to pass both ways. Then a motorcycle gang showed up. Then a church procession. Then the police. Then everyone in the neighborhood, all laughing and loudly offering their opinions. A good time was had by all -except for the driver stuck sideways.

Super Bowl Trip Winner Denied U.S. Entry

Myles Wilkinson of Victoria, British Columbia, entered a fantasy football league contest and won an all-expense-paid trip to the Super Bowl! The excited football fan flew to Toronto Thursday, but when he changed planes to enter the US, he was denied entry -because of his criminal record. He was convicted of marijuana possession in 1981.  

"I had two grams of cannabis. I paid a $50 fine," Wilkinson told CBC news.

Wilkinson said he was 19 when he was busted.

"I can't believe that this is happening, for something that happened 32 years ago."

Wilkinson returned to British Columbia, where he ended up watching the Super Bowl on TV, albeit in style -at the Super Bowl party at Vancouver's Commodore Ballroom, courtesy of Bud Light Canada.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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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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