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The Weird Week in Review

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UFO Crashes at Elementary School

Students at North Harringay Primary School in Greater London, England, were surprised to find that a flying saucer had crash-landed in the school's pavement. It had apparently landed so hard that it was half-buried in the asphalt!

A forensic officer was spotted inspecting the UFO while police closely guarded the scene, which was roped off while investigations took place.

The whole event was just the inspiration pupils needed for a creative writing day at the school, and was orchestrated by Emma Hassan, its literacy leader, with the help of one very creative parent and a local PC.

A parent had built the spacecraft for the school and also showed up dressed as a forensic detective. A police constable was also recruited to lend authenticity to the stunt. Many examples of creative writing were accomplished that day and a good time was had by all.

Amputee Survives Four Days in Outback

Raymond "Butch" Beattie of Irvinebank, Queensland, Australia, lost an arm almost forty years ago. He lost a leg in another traffic accident several years later. Now the 55-year-old has cheated death once again, by surviving four days alone in the Outback. Beattie was riding his quad bike with a friend when they became separated. Trying to find his way back to the trail, Beattie wrecked his bike, which went down a cliff. That was last Saturday. Beattie stayed in the same place waiting for rescue until Wednesday, when a Queensland Emergency Service helicopter rescue crew spotted him. Beattie is recovering in a hospital and was overwhelmed by the number of people who searched for him.

Government Shutdown Forces New Wedding Site

Mike Cassesso and MaiLien Le had planned to say their wedding vows on the lawn of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C. which is where they went on their first date. But their plans were shattered by the government shutdown and the subsequent closing of the capital monuments. Late night talk-show host Stephen Colbert stepped in to rescue the occasion by hosting the wedding on his show, The Colbert Report. Colbert himself performed the rites, with various celebrities contributing their talents. You can watch the wedding on video.

Squirting Tea Through His Chin

Footballer Gary Pake of Chatham, England, was injured during a game when he collided with a player on the opposing team. He took it on the chin, literally. He "plugged it up with a bit of Vaseline" and continued playing, but came to recognize how serious the cut was. Pake had a previous injury in the same spot, and the collision had reopened it. He left at halftime to go to a hospital. In the emergency waiting room, he remembered how he regretted not performing a stunt the first time he was injured on the chin, and was determined not to let the opportunity pass by this time. So he sipped some tea, and squirted it out of his chin! The stunt was captured on video. Pake received two stitches in his face. 

A Paddleboat for a Getaway Vehicle

Police in Waterford Township, Michigan, along with corrections officers, went to arrest fugitive Mark Steven Rood, Jr. on several charges including felony absconding from probation. They found him at home with his father, Mark Steven Rood, Sr. When police arrived, Rood, Jr. fled on foot and his father obstructed police attempts to give chase, resulting in Rood, Sr.'s arrest. Rood fled to nearby Lake Oakland and jumped into a paddleboat. The boat was anything but high-speed, and police watched as Rood slowly left the shore and eventually capsized the boat. He was ordered back to the shore, where he was taken into custody.

Half-ton of Bacon Falls on Swedish Man

An unnamed warehouse worker in the meatpacking district of Gothenburg, Sweden, was injured when a trolley turned over. He was buried under 500 to 600 kilograms of packages of thinly-sliced bacon. The worker was conscious when he was rushed to Sahlgrenska University Hospital, and his injuries were later classed as minor. A police spokesman said he's never heard of anything like this. The incident will be reviewed by the Swedish Work Environment Authority.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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
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]