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The Weird Week in Review

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Which U.S. City Has the Worst Drivers?

If opinions counted, the city with the worst drivers would be the city that has the most people surveyed, because everyone is sure their home town has the worst drivers. But Slate combined figures for fatalities, drunk driving fatalities, pedestrian strikes, and insurance claims, and ranked the cities with a population over 150,000 people with the worst drivers. Three of the top five cities are in Florida. Miami ranked at the top of this admittedly unscientific ranking, followed by Philadelphia, Hialeah, Tampa, and Baltimore.

Man Drank $102,000 in Historic Whiskey

Patricia Hill owned 104 bottles of valuable whiskey that came with the mansion she bought and converted to a historic inn in PIttsburgh. The Old Farm Pure Rye Whiskey was distilled in 1912, and was hidden under a staircase. The property had been sold several times before Hill found it during a remodeling project.

[Police chief] Pritts said that Hill put the whiskey bottles in the basement while the main floors were being renovated. John Saunders, 62, was a caretaker who lived in the basement and was expected to safeguard the booze.

"You know, to watch over them and keep them secure. I guess that was a mistake," Pritts said.

Hill discovered that 52 of the bottles had been emptied in March 2012, and reported it to police. All four cases of whiskey had been emptied within about a year, Pitts said.

Saunders denied that he consumed the vintage alcohol, but police tested the empty bottles to see if they matched Saunders' DNA. After seven months of testing, police confirmed that Saunders' DNA was found on the bottles, and charged him with felony theft and receiving stolen property, Pritts said.

The whiskey was valued at $102,400, but it's doubtful that restitution will be made. Saunders' attorney told the court that Saunders is waiting for a liver transplant.

Bear Rescued from Bear-proof Dumpster

Game warden Adam Smith had to rescue a bear cub from a bear-proof dumpster in Azusa, California. The problem was that someone had left the lid open. When the lid somehow slammed shut, one of two cubs was inside. The mother bear tried to lift the lid, but …it's a bear-proof dumpster. Smith used his lights and siren to keep the mother bear away while he raised the dumpster lid. The cub jumped out and headed off into the darkness with his mother and sibling. You can see a video of the rescue

Shopper Horrified to Find Piece of Chicken in Package of Chicken

A woman in Phoenix, Arizona, spotted a package of chicken breasts at her local Safeway store that had a bonus in it: a chicken foot. No, she didn't buy the package, but she took a picture and posted it to Twitter, along with her opinion of disgust. She then contacted news organizations about the outrage, and CBS asked if they could use her photograph. Other social media users laughed about it, even calling the chicken foot a bonus. At least the package makes clear what kind of meat is in it.

Woman Takes Horse Into McDonalds

A woman in Whitefield, Greater Manchester, UK, rode up to a McDonalds drive-through on a horse. The drive-through clerk refused to serve her, citing company policy. That apparently did not sit well with the woman, because she then walked inside the outlet …still on horseback! The horse pooped on the floor, the police were called, and she was issued a ticket.

A spokesman for Whitefield police said on their Facebook page: “The sight and smell of this caused obvious distress and upset to customers trying to eat, as well as staff members.

“Officers arrived at the location and woman was issued a fixed penalty notice for causing alarm and distress to other customers and staff.”

The policy, which most likely is in place to keep the driveway clean, completely backfired in this case.

Trousers Found Inside Tree

A 100-year-old old tree in Shelbyville, Indiana, held a secret inside for years. Brent Montgomery noticed the locally-famous Old Linden Tree had a leaning branch that was causing damage to a brick wall, so he trimmed it off. The tree had a hollow in it, and in that hollow was a pair of pants! There is no knot leading to the hollow, so the tree must have grown around them. The pants, which are still attached to the tree, have a button but no zipper, and are splashed with paint. Grover Museum Director Candy Miller is researching what is known of the trousers to see if they can be reliably dated.

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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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