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Zoological Center Tel Aviv/Ramat Gan

The Weird Week in Review

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Zoological Center Tel Aviv/Ramat Gan

Putting Pants on an Ass

Haim is a donkey in Israel who was abused before being taken in by Ramat Gan Safari, an animal sanctuary that is home to 1,600 creatures. He has been in rehabilitation for skittishness and physical wounds. But the raw skin on his legs wouldn't heal because of flies which cause Haim to scratch and pick. Traditional bandages caused too much damage and pain because they had to be changed often.

Two caretakers, Becca Rivkin and Shira Inbar-Danin, came up with a solution. They spent four hours stitching a special pair of pants for the donkey that are held up by suspenders over his shoulders. The pants are double-layered, with a soft stretchy material on the inside, covered by a rougher baggy material that flies can’t bite through. The two women also rub cream on his legs every day.

The special pants are working swimmingly, and Haim will soon receive pants for his hind legs as well. With his skin protected, his fur is expected to grow back quickly, and then Haim the donkey will be able to trot around bare-ass once again.

Welcome to College; Enjoy the Water Slide!

It happens at a lot of colleges when a new class of freshmen arrive: there aren't enough dormitory beds. Within a few weeks, the no-shows are counted and alternate housing is found, but meanwhile, many colleges put cots in the gym or commons building for the overflow. Some freshmen at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, are getting a totally different experience because the school is putting them up in an indoor water park! Capital University spokeswoman Nichole Johnson said the school thought using Fort Rapids was a better option than putting new students in storage areas or lounges. Fort Rapids Indoor Water Park is also a resort, with suites that will accommodate about thirty students. The school is setting up a shuttle service to connect those students with the campus. Meanwhile, they will have access to the water slides. With living accommodations like that, who'd want to go to class?

Chinese Zoo Displays Dog as Lion

A private zoo in Luohe, Henan province, China, is under fire for trying to pass off a Tibetan mastiff, a particularly hairy dog, as an African lion. A zoo representative said the lions were away at another zoo for breeding purposes, and the dog was in the cage for his own protection. However, visitors also noticed that the creature in the jaguar enclosure looked suspiciously like a fox, and a "wolf" that was clearly a domestic dog. An official of the People's Park, where the zoo is located, said that the signs for the animals would be corrected. The zoo is a private enterprise, and is only there because its contract with the People's Park has not yet expired. See more pictures here.

Google Street View Driver Detained in Thailand

Sa-eab, a village in northern Thailand, is the scene of a long-running feud between locals and environmentalists and developers who want to build a dam. Google confirmed that one of their Street View drivers was caught in the crossfire. A group of about 20 people stopped the Google vehicle and made a citizen's arrest, which included taking the driver to a temple and making him swear on a statue of Buddha that he wasn't taking survey pictures for the dam project. The driver was eventually released, and the citizens apologized for the incident.

Surgeon Steals Drugs from Patient's Gut

Police in Russia arrested a man who became ill on a train from Krasnoyarsk, and he was taken to the hospital in Bogotol to have smuggled heroin removed from his stomach. Then they arrested the surgeon who performed the operation!

Law enforcement agents confiscated the capsules but later found five grammes of heroin hidden in the surgeon's clothing. Police have released video footage of a young man wearing an Adidas jacket, his face blurred, who is purported to be the surgeon.

Local news outlets said he is 32, with previous convictions for drug possession. "At the moment of his arrest, the doctor was in a state of drug intoxication," the police said.

A criminal case has been opened and the surgeon faces up to 15 years for drug possession and theft.

Meanwhile, the smuggler is in a coma, while other doctors try to save his life.

Turning the Tables on the Bank

Dmitry Agarkov of Voronezh, Russia, received a credit card offer from Tinkoff Credit Systems. He didn't like the terms spelled out in the contract, so he changed the contract and sent it back to the bank. The altered contract called for 0% interest, an unlimited line of credit, no fees, and an agreement to pay Agarkov a hefty fine for not complying with the agreement. Plus, if the bank tried to cancel the contract, they would have to pay Agarkov six million rubles -which is over $100,000! Like most people confronted with a lot of small print, the bank didn't bother to read the contract and accepted it.

When Agarkov went deep into debt and the bank tried to call in its usual fees, they ended up in court because Agarkov did not consider himself liable for fees not specified in the contract. And a judge agreed - Agarkov is only liable for the outstanding balance ($578), not the bank fees ($1,369). Next, Agarkov is suing to get the bank to pay him the penalties stated in the contract they signed.

Don't Name Your Baby Messiah

Jaleesa Martin and the father of her seven-month-old son went to a child support hearing in Cocke County Chancery Court in Tennessee because they could not agree whether the child should have his mother's or father's last name. Instead, the judge, Lu Ann Ballew, objected to the boy's current first name and ordered that it be changed. The child, so far named Messiah DeShawn Martin, was ordered to be named Martin DeShawn McCullough, which incorporates both parents' surnames. The judge said that Messiah was a title reserved for Jesus Christ, and that a child with that name would have a hard time growing up in a predominately Christian area. Jaleesa Martin says she was shocked, and is appealing the decision.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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