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The Edelweiss Restaurant

The Weird Week in Review

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The Edelweiss Restaurant

Bear Steals Dumpster -Twice

You often hear of bears taking things from dumpsters, but this one just took the whole thing! The Edelweiss Restaurant in Colorado Springs had a security camera trained on the back alley, and Tuesday night they caught the bear in action. Reaching to the top of the dumpster, the bear backs up and takes the entire unit away. There is no information on where the dumpster was found, but the restaurant posted an update on Facebook in which you see the bear returning for more German food on Wednesday night.

Rare Six-legged Octopus Found, Eaten

Labros Hydras of Washington, D.C. was vacationing in Greece when he caught an octopus. It only had six legs -not because of injury, but because it was a "hexapus," which only grew six legs. Such an octopus is so rare that only one other specimen has ever been documented. Hydras did not know that when he killed the octopus and took it to a taverna to have it cooked.

The chef refused to cook it for him because it was so rare and told Labros he should have let the octopus live.

But the hungry father-of-two went and fried it for his supper anyway and served it up with a slice of tomato, lemon and a solitary salad leaf.

After finishing it off he decided to check out what the chef had said – and felt sick when he realised what he had done.

No-one had ever heard of a six-legged hexapus until five years ago when one nicknamed Henry was found off the North Wales coast.

Hydras then took photographs to Greek scientists to help document the hexapus. Scientists say it is not a new species, but a rare yet natural anomaly.

Georgia Family Finds Giant Kentucky Fried Chicken Bucket in Yard

Aleena Headrick of Waynesboro, Georgia, arrived home a week ago Thursday to find a seven-foot-tall Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket in her front yard! Having no clue where it came from, she took a picture and posted it on Facebook, where it went viral. The mystery was cleared up later when Headrick's landlord admitted he bought the bucket and left it on the property. He plans to permanently display the bucket there, which is at least forty years old -obviously, because it spells the company name out instead of using the acronym KFC. The local KFC, glad for the publicity, has offered to cater a picnic for Headrick's family and friends.

Smuggled Turtle Hidden in Hamburger

A Chinese man going through airport security in Ghuangzhou was stopped because officials noticed something unusual in the fast food bag going through an x-ray machine. When they repeatedly asked Mr. Li to show them his KFC hamburger (which actually exists in China), he finally relented and opened the bun. Inside was a live turtle! It was not believed to be a case of animal trafficking, as Mr. Li was only traveling to Beijing. He said he just wanted his beloved pet to travel with him. After airport staff explained flight policies, Mr. Li made arrangements for a friend to take care of his turtle while he was gone.

Falling Dentures Revealed Drug Smuggler at Jailhouse Wedding

Brita Lee West was going to marry Willard Tinch at the Scott County Jail in Tennessee, where Tinch was incarcerated. Instead, she ended up in jail herself!

According to a report filed by the Scott County Sheriff’s Department, West inquired about being able to kiss her groom during the marital ceremony as she was being searched prior to entering the facility. Corrections Sgt. Tiffany Byrge reportedly noticed that West’s “false teeth kept falling down while she was talking and noticed a package in her mouth,” according to the report. The package turned out to be a gum wrapper containing two strips of suboxone — an addictive pain relief narcotic — and an amount of crystal methamphetamine.

More drugs were found in West's vehicle, and she was charged with several drug violations. The wedding was cancelled.

Stowaway Survived 3 Weeks Without Food or Water

An illegal immigrant from the Philippines who stowed away on a container ship will be allowed to stay in the United States. A female cat, later named Pinay, apparently wandered into a shipping container in Manila, which was loaded and crossed 6,400 miles to Los Angeles. The cat was found when the shipping container was opened, over three weeks later. Pinay was weak and dehydrated, and was taken to the Baldwin Park Animal Care Center. She was given intravenous fluids, and has improved to fair condition. The veterinary staff is amazed that she was able to survive so long without water or food. Pinay is now available to be adopted into a good home, preferably one that won't let her roam.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
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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iStock
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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
June 21, 2017
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iStock

In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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