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Lars Mytting

The Weird Week in Review

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Lars Mytting

Norwegian TV Show on Firewood is a Hit

Lars Mytting wrote a book about firewood, which became a bestseller in Norway, where firewood is a serious subject. That led to a TV program that was 12 hours long -and consisted of eight hours of a fire burning in a fireplace. Twenty percent of Norway's citizens watched at least part of it, and dozens texted the TV station to complain about the way the firewood was stacked. The eight-hour fire was not a loop, but a continuous burn, which prompted viewers to stay tuned to see if more firewood would be added at the proper time.  

Brothers Celebrate Lottery Win by Blowing Up House

Two unnamed brothers in Wichita, Kansas, won $75,000 in the lottery. They purchased marijuana and meth to celebrate their good fortune.
 
The brothers were in a house in the 100 block of North Nevada Court, near Douglas and West Street, about 7 p.m. Friday, Watts said. One of the brothers went to the kitchen to refuel the butane torches they planned to use to light their bongs. He emptied a couple of large cans of butane lighter fluid, leaking butane into the air.

“The butane vapor reached the pilot light in the furnace, and as you might expect, ka-boom,” Watts said.

The victim was wearing a lottery T-shirt during the explosion.

The injured brother was taken to a hospital where his girlfriend dropped him off and left. Police arrested the other brother at the site of the explosion.

Bigfoot's Genome is Published

A group of researchers in Texas had a hard time getting their Sasquatch DNA sequencing study published in any respected scientific journal. So they bought one. The DeNovo Scientific Journal has only one study published, and accessing it costs $30. The study has not received any peer reviews, but a few copies of the study were sent to journalists, who have found some problems with the results.

Murder Suspect Turned Away at Police Station

After 15 months at large, Saleh Hadri decided to face the music and turn himself in to police in Sweden. The 45-year-old was wanted in connection with the murder of a gang leader in 2011. Hadri says he is innocent and wants to clear his name. However, when he went to the police station in Malmo shortly after 6 PM, he found it was closed. He explained his situation to those inside by the intercom, but was told to go to another police station, which he did -unescorted. Hadri was arrested in his second attempt to surrender. Police officials say the incident is "regrettable."

Turkish Man Cured of Vampirism

An unnamed man in Turkey was diagnosed two years ago with vampirism, dissociative identity disorder, major depressive disorder, alcohol abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The PTSD, and possibly the alcohol abuse, were attributed to the crimes he committed due to the vampirism. He began drinking his own blood and then progressed to attacking others. He was arrested several times for stabbing and biting people in order to drink their blood. The man had suffered from several traumatic incidents before turning to blood. Doctors believe he has now been cured of his "blood addiction."

Pig Trains Fire Department

The Fire and Rescue service in Avon, England has recruited a pig named Dominic to train firefighters in important skills. Dominic is a rescue pig living at the HorseWorld rescue centre in Bristol. He has escaped several times and always presents a challenge to workers in rounding him up. The Avon firefighters saw an opportunity, and will use Dominic in drills to train firefighters in rounding up animals. Many firefighters are inexperienced in dealing with animals, but after a lecture at the center and an afternoon of chasing Dominic, they are much more comfortable with the task.

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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