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Bonnie Natko/Flickr

The Weird Week in Review

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Bonnie Natko/Flickr

"Weed Man" Arrested for Stabbing "Beer Man"

Two well-known New York panhandlers got into a fight last Friday night in Times Square. Joshua Long, known as "Weed Man" (because he holds a sign saying "I need money for weed") was arrested for stabbing Wayne Semancik, or "Beer Man" (who holds a sign saying "I need beer") with a pen. The two are said to have had a turf dispute, which escalated when Long spit at Semancik. Semancik said he sustained five stab wounds to his face. Police also talked to street artists dressed as Predator and Alien about the fight.

Dry Lips Lead to Sticky Situation

Countless stories have taught us that people who use eyedrops should never keep superglue on the nightstand. But no one should keep superglue on the nightstand. A 64-year-old woman in Dunedin, New Zealand, called emergency services Thursday night, but could not tell them what was wrong.

"Ambulance received a call, but due to the muffled speech ... they were unsure whether it was a medical event or whether someone had been gagged," Senior Sergeant Steve Aitken said.

"Basically, she could only grunt."

Ambulance staff called the police, who went to the woman's home and found that she had mistakenly applied super-glue to her lips instead of her normal medication.

The woman panicked because the glued lips impeded her breathing. She was taken to a hospital and later released.

Burglar Caught Sleeping on the Job

A man in Hazel Park, Michigan called police to investigate his elderly neighbor's home because she never leaves her garage door open. Police arrived and found 37-year-old William Goad asleep inside the car parked in the garage. Items from the garage had been piled into a wheelbarrow next to the car, leading police to believe it was a burglary in progress. There was also damage to the car's ignition. Police woke up Goad, who apparently fell asleep mid-crime, and arrested him.

Crash Covers Dog in Paint

An unnamed man was driving home with several buckets of paint in his car when he lost control of his SUV in Mason County, Washington. The vehicle left the road and crashed, sending paint flying. The man, his dog,and the interior of the car were covered in paint! The driver was taken to a hospital with minor injuries. Washington State Patrol trooper Russ Winger and a local firefighter found a nearby resident who gave them shampoo and let them hose off the dog. The dog was taken to the Humane Society until his owner can pick him up.

Championship Parade is an Obstacle Course

The Miami Heat were feted in a parade in downtown Miami Monday after winning the NBA Championship last weekend. The team was driven in a double-decker bus, and they sat on top so everyone could see them. However, parade planners failed to account for the fact that most players are 6'8" or taller, and that Miami streets have overpass bridges across them. The players were recorded on video doing multiple "dunks" to avoid the obstacles. No injuries were reported.

Carjacker Foiled by HIs Own Walker

A 64-year-old man in Geelong, Victoria, Australia, was arrested soon after his carjacking victim called police. He couldn't make a fast getaway because it took him too much time to load his walker into the stolen car!

Police allege the senior from Queensland had bought a knife from the shopping centre's Kmart store and approached a 22-year-old female as she prepared to drive out of the carpark.

Geelong Senior-Constable Paul Mitchell said the victim wound down her window and the man held the knife to her throat, demanding she give him the vehicle. After putting his walker in the car, the man drove a short distance before getting out to load in other bags.

The unnamed suspect is charged with one count of armed robbery.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]