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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
technology
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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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Stephen Missal
crime
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New Evidence Emerges in Norway’s Most Famous Unsolved Murder Case
May 22, 2017
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A 2016 sketch by a forensic artist of the Isdal Woman
Stephen Missal

For almost 50 years, Norwegian investigators have been baffled by the case of the “Isdal Woman,” whose burned corpse was found in a valley outside the city of Bergen in 1970. Most of her face and hair had been burned off and the labels in her clothes had been removed. The police investigation eventually led to a pair of suitcases stuffed with wigs and the discovery that the woman had stayed at numerous hotels around Norway under different aliases. Still, the police eventually ruled it a suicide.

Almost five decades later, the Norwegian public broadcaster NRK has launched a new investigation into the case, working with police to help track down her identity. And it is already yielding results. The BBC reports that forensic analysis of the woman’s teeth show that she was from a region along the French-German border.

In 1970, hikers discovered the Isdal Woman’s body, burned and lying on a remote slope surrounded by an umbrella, melted plastic bottles, what may have been a passport cover, and more. Her clothes and possessions were scraped clean of any kind of identifying marks or labels. Later, the police found that she left two suitcases at the Bergen train station, containing sunglasses with her fingerprints on the lenses, a hairbrush, a prescription bottle of eczema cream, several wigs, and glasses with clear lenses. Again, all labels and other identifying marks had been removed, even from the prescription cream. A notepad found inside was filled with handwritten letters that looked like a code. A shopping bag led police to a shoe store, where, finally, an employee remembered selling rubber boots just like the ones found on the woman’s body.

Eventually, the police discovered that she had stayed in different hotels all over the country under different names, which would have required passports under several different aliases. This strongly suggests that she was a spy. Though she was both burned alive and had a stomach full of undigested sleeping pills, the police eventually ruled the death a suicide, unable to track down any evidence that they could tie to her murder.

But some of the forensic data that can help solve her case still exists. The Isdal Woman’s jaw was preserved in a forensic archive, allowing researchers from the University of Canberra in Australia to use isotopic analysis to figure out where she came from, based on the chemical traces left on her teeth while she was growing up. It’s the first time this technique has been used in a Norwegian criminal investigation.

The isotopic analysis was so effective that the researchers can tell that she probably grew up in eastern or central Europe, then moved west toward France during her adolescence, possibly just before or during World War II. Previous studies of her handwriting have indicated that she learned to write in France or in another French-speaking country.

Narrowing down the woman’s origins to such a specific region could help find someone who knew her, or reports of missing women who matched her description. The case is still a long way from solved, but the search is now much narrower than it had been in the mystery's long history.

[h/t BBC]

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