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Spot Northampton's Clown/Facebook

The Weird Week in Review

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Spot Northampton's Clown/Facebook

The Creepy Clown of Northampton

Since Friday the 13th, pictures of a creepy clown in Northampton, England, have been circulating the internet, drawing comparisons with the Pennywise character from the 1990 Stephen King movie It. The clown also launched a Facebook page, but over the week it began drawing unfounded rumors and threatening comments. The mysterious clown finally talked to newspapers without revealing his identity, to say his appearances were all in fun and he meant no harm to anyone. He said he just wanted to amuse people.

Cunning Plan Leaves Man Stranded on Ledge

An unnamed man in Goosen's Close, Greater London, UK, arrived home late Thursday night and realized he was locked out of his home. That's when he should have called someone for help, but he hatched an ingenius scheme to get inside.

He decided the best course of action was to stack two wheelie bins on top of his car, climb them and get through his bathroom window.

The agile man managed to clamber up the two wheelie bins and got as far as the window ledge before realising he was too big to fit through the window.

His luck then got worse when his tower of wheelie bins collapsed leaving him stranded on the narrow ledge.

The story doesn't mention how long he was there before the Sutton fire department was summoned. Firefighters managed to get the man down by ladder, and a smaller firefighter was able to fit through the window and unlock the door.

No Keys for the Getaway Car

A bank robber in Portland, Oregon, reached the end of his crime spree when he made a rookie mistake: he left his car keys in the bank he just robbed. Andrew Frank Laviguer allegedly robbed a Wells Fargo branch bank, but when he found he could not drive his getaway car, he fled on foot, and police officers found him in a nearby office building. The 57-year-old was arrested on the spot. Investigators linked Laviguer to at least five other robberies in the last two months. There's no word on whether the getaway car was locked.

Barn Owl Fails as Ring Bearer

You've seen weddings in which a pet or a trained animal is included in the ceremony, but this one didn't come off as planned. A couple from Oxfordshire, England, were married at Holy Cross Church in Sherston, Wiltshire, with a barn owl as a ring bearer. It was a surprise for the groom. But Darcey the barn owl, instead of flying over the wedding guests and delivering the rings, decided the tall church sanctuary had wonderful places to perch. So that's what he did. The owl fell asleep high above the proceedings, and napped for about an hour. After a short interruption, the wedding ceremony went on, using a set of backup rings. The bird was retrieved by ladder after the ceremony.

Auto-Brewery Syndrome: A Real Beer Belly

A 61-year-man in Texas went to a hospital complaining of dizziness. He was very drunk, but insisted he hadn't had a drink that day. His wife said he would become drunk at odd times. Hospital staff assumed he was lying about drinking, but gastroenterologist Dr. Justin McCarthy and Panola College dean of nursing Barbara Cordell wanted to get to the bottom of the case. They isolated the patient and monitored his blood-alcohol level for 24 hours, and found his alcohol level spontaneously went up after eating.

Eventually, McCarthy and Cordell pinpointed the culprit: an overabundance of brewer's yeast in his gut.

That's right, folks. According to Cordell and McCarthy, the man's intestinal tract was acting like his own internal brewery.

The patient had an infection with Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Cordell says. So when he ate or drank a bunch of starch — a bagel, pasta or even a soda — the yeast fermented the sugars into ethanol, and he would get drunk. Essentially, he was brewing beer in his own gut. Cordell and McCarthy reported the case of "auto-brewery syndrome" a few months ago in the International Journal of Clinical Medicine.

The condition is quite rare, as brewer's yeast is usually not a problem for a healthy digestive system.

Man Turns Green from Eating Too Many Snails

A 24-year-old man from Zhejiang Province, China, was hospitalized because his skin and the whites of his eyes turned green. The unnamed patient, who had suffered abdominal pain but didn't seek help until the color change, described himself as looking like the Incredible Hulk. He had tried several hospitals, but no one could figure out what was wrong with him until he was admitted to the Guizhou Aerospace Hospital in Guizhou. Doctors there diagnosed the man with an infection caused by parasitic river worms, which he had ingested with river snails, that attacked his liver. He admitted that he had been eating a bowl of fried snails every night.

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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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