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Drusilla's Park

The Weird Week in Review

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Drusilla's Park

Bandit Came Back

Drusilla's Park is a zoo in East Sussex, England. On April 26th, there was a breakout when two raccoons escaped into the surrounding neighborhood. Turpin was found in another area of the park a week later and returned to her enclosure. But her sister Bandit remained at large until she suddenly was seen back in her enclosure when a zookeeper made an evening nose count. She had returned on her own! Bandit's identity was confirmed by a scan of her embedded microchip. She apparently found that the grass was not greener on the other side of the fence.

Teenager Hacks House Arrest Sentence

An unnamed 16-year-old boy was sentenced to a juvenile curfew for conspiracy to commit burglary in Gloucester, England. He was fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet so his movements could be monitored. But when the security company set up the monitor—over the phone—he had an idea to get around the business of staying in his home.

The teenager was asked over the phone by an official from G4S to walk around the perimeter of his home so they could map the curfew zone they had to monitor.

But the quick-thinking lad decided to give himself a lot more freedom – by running as fast as he could down the road and back.

His speedy dash meant that the G4S official inadvertently gave him a much bigger area to roam around during his curfew hours.

Normally a criminal who is electronically tagged has to stay indoors or in the immediate garden area of his home during curfew hours.

The 16 year-old's ploy meant he could still venture down the road without triggering the tag.

The scheme was only uncovered about five weeks later, when the delinquent's landlady reported him not in the home. The security company had not received any alarms from the anklet bracelet, so they investigated and found out what he'd done to increase his restricted area.

Caught by the Ghost Cam

A woman in Tasmania pled guilty to five counts of sex with a minor after she was caught in the act with her boyfriend's 16-year-old son. She explained that she mistakenly thought 16 was the age of consent. But the real kicker is how they were caught. The boy's father had set up a camera to catch suspected "paranormal activity" in the home, and left it on all the next day while he was at work. When he reviewed the recording, he saw his partner kissing and cuddling his son. So instead of paranormal activity, the camera caught normal, but illegal, activity.

Dog is Rescued While Rescuing a Kitten

An animal control officer in Anderson, South Carolina, responded to a call about a barking dog. When Michelle Smith went to investigate, she found a tiny Shih Tzu- mix barking in a ravine. Smith climbed down the embankment, which she says the dog could have easily climbed out of herself, and found out why the dog was there. She was nursing a tiny kitten! The animal shelter director said the 5-year-old dog likely started producing milk because of a surge of hormones when she found the kitten. The dog is obviously a pet, and the shelter is hoping the owner will come forward and take the kitten, too. See a video of the two.

Tourists Rescued After Dining on Iceberg

Sunday afternoon, four American tourists in Iceland decided to picnic on an ice floe in the Fjallsárlón glacial lagoon. But that was not a great idea, as they discovered when the ice they were sitting on started floating away! Páll Sigurður Vignisson, a member of the rescue crew, said a sudden gust of wind had pushed the ice about ten meters away from the shore. One of the tourists was able to jump back before the ice drifted too far, and called emergency services. Vignisson said, "When we arrived it was quite comical to see them sitting on chairs and with a table on an iceberg ... Yes the dinner was over." The moral of the story: dining on iceberg may be hazardous; try romaine instead.

Inflated Hedgehog

A hedgehog in Bude, Cornwall, England, was taken to the vet because he was so big and round that he couldn't walk or curl up. Veterinary staff were puzzled, because the huge hedgehog was of normal weight. An x-ray (which you have to see) revealed that the animal was, indeed, inflated. Veterinary surgeon Adam Revitt said he had never seen a case of "balloon syndrome" before. It occurs when bacteria get into a wound and create gas that lifts the skin from the animal. Revitt used a syringe to slowly deflate the hedgehog over about five minutes. The animal is now on antibiotics and is recovering nicely.

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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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