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The Weird Week in Review

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Warning: This week's edition of the Weird Week is heavy on roadkill.

Bart Simpson Appears in Court Before Mr. Burns

Bart Simpson of Eccleshall, Staffordshire, England, went to court to answer a charge of possessing a firearm at an airport. The 56-year-old Simpson appeared before a judge named Mr. Recorder Burns in Warwick Crown Court. Some eyebrows were raised when the names of the principles in the case were announced, but a court worker assured the press that the court case will proceed as any other criminal case.

22-ton Bridge Stolen

Has anybody seen the bridge? Sunday night, an entire bridge was taken from a village in Turkey.

The 22-ton bridge, which was 25 meters long, was in a village in Kocaeli's Gölçük district and was regularly used by villagers to cross a creek to reach their orchards. The villagers were astonished to discover the disappearance of the bridge on Monday morning as they were making their way to the orchards and immediately alerted the police.

Police arrived at the scene and determined that the bridge had been cut apart and loaded onto a truck by the thieves. They believe the bridge was stolen for scrap metal. Its worth was an estimated TL 20,000.  

Meanwhile, villagers must cross the creek by wading.

Montana Looks at Allowing Roadkill for Dinner

Montana state legislators in Helena are one vote away from approving a law that would allow motorists to salvage deer, elk, and moose that have been killed on the state's highways. Other fur-bearing animals and birds were initially included in the bill, but were then removed. Under the new law, those salvaging animal carcasses would have to get a permit from law enforcement. Opponents are concerned about whether roadkill is safe enough for food banks to accept the meat, and whether hunters would use the new law to kill animals with vehicles.

Roadkill Runs Away

Tuesday morning, police in Kalamazoo, Michigan, spoke to a man who told them he hit a small deer and had it in his trunk. Michigan law allows motorists who hit and kill a deer to keep it for meat, as long as they get it properly tagged with a a state deer kill permit. When officers opened the trunk to inspect the kill, the deer leapt out of the trunk and took off, with no apparent injuries. The incident was captured on the police car's dashcam.

Hay and Carrot Thefts Point to Horse

A series of thefts in the rural area around Penryn in England have authorities concerned. At one farm, seven bales of hay and straw, a sack of carrots, and a wheelbarrow were taken. In the second theft at a different farm, 14 bales of hay, a pressure washer, and various power tools were stolen.

“I think we are looking for a horse,” said Detective Constable Rick Milburn from Falmouth Police Station.

“Anyone with any knowledge of anyone who has recently acquired a horse or is trying to establish a living space for a horse, we are asking them to contact us with any information.”

Now, what would a horse want power tools for?

Cat Skin Rug Sparks Outrage, Laughter

New Zealand taxidermist Andrew Lancaster found a dead cat and, impressed with its perfection, made a cat skin rug out of it. He put it up for sale on the auction site Trade Me, where it was viewed by over 10,000 people. The winning bidder paid $995 for the feline rug. Review of the auction ranged from outrage and disgust to accolades from people who thought it was funny. One animal advocacy group merely called the auction "in extremely bad taste."

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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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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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