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The Weird Week in Review

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Double Stuf Oreo Comes Up Short

Another scandal is brewing in the world of food advertising. Dan Anderson’s high school consumer math class in upstate New York measured and found that Double Stuf Oreo cookies contain 1.86 times as much creme filling as regular Oreos—not "double" the amount, as a consumer would expect! Nabisco, who makes Oreo cookies, responded that their recipe does call for double the amount of creme filling in the Double Stuf cookies. One can imagine many packages of cookies being bought this weekend for at-home measurements. The class also found that Mega Stuf Oreos, a name that implies no actual precision, were 2.68 times the size of regular Oreos.

Police: Cable Outage Not an Emergency

Last Sunday night, Optimum cable in Norwalk, Connecticut, experienced a two-hour outage. This would have been ignored at any other time, but some subscribers who were suddenly missing the AMC show Breaking Bad panicked and called 911. The Fairfield Police Department was not amused, and took to Facebook with a statement telling viewers to call the cable company instead. The cable service returned just in time for the second showing of the new episode, and all was set right in Connecticut.

Dog Saves Cat with Blood Donation

Rory, a cat in Tauranga, New Zealand, was in sad shape after eating rat poison. In fact, he was dying. The only thing that could save him was a blood transfusion, which he got -from a dog.

It was Friday night and no labs were open to check his blood type, let alone get supplies. So vet Kate Heller sought advice and was told to try dog blood.

"I hadn't heard about it or read about it. It's not in any textbook," says Ms Heller.

Rory needed a donor fast. So Ms Edwards thought fast and phoned a friend in her book club.

"[I had] never heard of anything like that before. I thought she was joking," says Macy's owner, Michelle Whitemore.

But Rory desperately needed the 18-month-old Labrador. Macy was rushed to the vet where she donated 120ml of blood, and within an hour Rory the cat was saved.

A cat can only take a small amount of dog blood, but it was enough to dilute the poison. Three weeks later, Rory has recovered from the incident.

Chinese City to Fine Urinal Users for "Poor Aim"

A new policy in Shenzen, China, will levy fines against public urinal users with "poor aim." The regulation is in response to the filthy conditions of public toilets in the city. An official said, "Such uncouth use of a public toilet will be fined 100 yuan ($16) by authorities." The proposed city regulation does not specify the amount of "spillover" that will be grounds for violation. The news has been mocked on social media, as Sina Weibo forum members consider how many civil positions as "toilet inspectors" will have to be created to police the public facilities.

Single Men Change Sheets Four Times a Year

A UK survey found that while average single women change their sheets every two weeks, single men between the ages of 18 and 35 change their sheets, on average, about every three months. Which explains why they are single.

More than 20 percent of them said they "didn't see the need" to change the sheets more and 19 percent said they "didn't care" about changing them more.

Couples in relationships change their bed linen every 2.3 weeks, however that's not because men suddenly become more hygienic –– women reportedly are the sheet-changers in 81 percent of couples.

The study found that people between 35 and 50 tend to change sheets weekly. One would guess that those are also the people most likely to own their own washing machines.

One-legged Man Accused of Benefit Fraud

Robert Punter of Newton Abbot, Devon, England, was called to court to answer charges of defrauding the government of a disability allowance. Inspectors had found a letter stating he had fully recovered from his injuries, and wanted the 63-year-old to pay back £28,000 he had collected over 12 years. However, the injuries specified in the letter were on his right leg. His left leg, which had been badly damaged many years ago, was ultimately amputated. After waiting months for his court date on the matter, Punter entered the courtroom in a wheelchair. The case was dismissed within five minutes.

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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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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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