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Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

The Weird Week in Review

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Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

Alligator Catches Fleeing Suspect

A Pinellas County Sheriff's deputy pulled over a car driven by 20-year-old Bryan Zuniga near Tampa, Florida, when he was observed weaving in traffic around 3AM Thursday. Zuniga stopped the car, then fled by kicking his way through a fence. He was found a few hours later in a hospital. Zuniga had breached the fence of a water treatment plant, and been bitten by an alligator on his run. He suffered injuries on his face and arm. Zuniga was arrested on a variety of charges, but it is not known why he fled from the traffic stop.

Fake Nuns Caught Smuggling Cocaine

Police in San Andres, a Colombian island in the Caribbean, arrested three women posing as nuns. They had $35,000 worth of cocaine underneath their habits as they entered the island at the San Andres airport.

“They weren’t really religious, they weren’t nuns. On the contrary, they were taking advantage of this situation,” San Andres police commissioner Jorge Gomez told RCN TV.

According to the police official, the drugs — 60,000 doses — had a street value of $35,470 and was likely to be distributed locally.

The suspects, ages 20, 32, and 37, were jailed and are awaiting trial.

Mr. and Mrs. Speed in Trouble Over Speed

A case of nominative determinism? Daniel Speed of Nottingham, England, pled guilty to charges of possession with intent to supply amphetamines. Speed was sentenced to 2.5 years in jail. His wife, Abigail Speed, was ordered to perform 180 hours of community labor. The Speeds were arrested following a raid on their home in 2011, during which about a kilogram of amphetamines, scales, and cash were seized. The couple was also found to have made large unexplained cash deposits over the past few years, despite the fact that Daniel Speed is unemployed and Abigail Speed has a low-income job.

105-Year-Old Woman Says Bacon Keeps Her Alive

Pearl Cantrell of Brownwood, Texas, recently celebrated her 105th birthday with a three-day celebration which over 200 guests attended. The local TV station asked her the secret to her longevity, and she said, “I love bacon. I eat it every day.” The quote inspired the Oscar Mayer company to send its Weinermobile to Cantrell's house to deliver a supply of bacon. But Cantrell has other healthier habits, such as staying active years after retirement. For example, she mowed her own lawn until she was 100 years old. Cantrell worked a variety of physically active jobs during her life and raised seven children.

Puppy Survives Month in Locked Car

A vehicle at an impound lot in Kansas City had a surprise inside, but no one knew for almost a month. When an inspector went around to mark cars for auction on Monday, the puppy jumped up on the dashboard! Since the car was locked, lot employees called the police, who freed the puppy.

What is known is that the 1990 Chevy Suburban was towed because it was abandoned April 8 on an eastbound ramp to I-70 from Van Brunt Boulevard and was blocking traffic, Rotert said. Police got the call at 10:08 p.m. and it was towed to the city tow lot at 10:45 p.m. Neither police nor the tow truck driver saw a dog, nor did tow lot employees.

The doors on the car were locked. Typically, when a car arrives at the tow lot with locked doors, employees take pictures of the outside of the vehicle and keep the doors locked. Rotert said they do not try to break into locked cars.

The dog was taken to a veterinarian, who estimated the emaciated pup was 12 weeks old, although the female, now named Kia, was the size of an 8-week-old. She had apparently survived on fast food scraps and cigars, but no one knows if she had anything to drink. The owner of the car came by the lot on May 1st, but did not have a car key and never mentioned a puppy. Kia is expected to recover and will be sent to a foster home before adoption.

Scratch-and-Sniff Cards Still Worked

Energy West in Great Falls, Montana, distributes scratch-and-sniff cards to its customers so they can learn to recognize the smell of a gas leak. When a batch of expired cards was discarded, they were picked up by a garbage truck that compressed them with the other trash, which released the smell to the entire town as the truck traveled its route on Wednesday. Gas customers recognized the smell, all right. Alarms were raised, and several buildings were evacuated due to the smell. The gas company has apologized for the situation.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.