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The Weird Week in Review

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According to GPS Tracker, Cat Traveled with Santa Claus

Suki, a cat in Plymouth, England, wears a G-paws brand GPS tracker on her collar. It records her position every ten seconds, and her owner Melony Gallagher can find her location online. The device worked as it should for weeks -until the night of Christmas Eve. Ganger says the G-paws data logger told a tale of Suki traveling miles across town at a speed of up to 182 mph!

“She appears to have travelled several miles back and forth across Plymouth during the night, at one point travelling several miles in one minute, travelling over rooftops and to the middle of the river.

“You can see the difference in how it was moving by comparing her normal meandering route and the route travelled that night – too fast for a car and not via the streets but over the houses.

“I have not believed in Santa since I was a child but think maybe she hitched a ride in his sleigh.”

The G-paws company said that the device sometimes records glitches when the battery is getting low. Maybe he's covering for the cat who hitched a ride on Santa's sleigh.

Stuck in a Washing Machine

Eleven-year-old Trinity Rhoades of South Jordan, Utah, played a game of hide and seek with her sister and cousins Tuesday. Trinity decided to hide in the washing machine, but once in, she couldn't get out. Her sister and cousins tried remedies they recalled from cartoons. First they used butter to lubricate her legs. Then they tried using peanut butter. Then they resorted to ice, which only left the girl cold, so they then poured warm water over her. The children finally called Trinity's mom, who called emergency services. They found the girl not only stuck in a washing machine, but "wet, cold, and covered with condiments." They eventually had to cut the dryer from the top of the combo laundry unit, and Trinity was freed. She has some bruising on her legs, but is otherwise uninjured.

"Felony Stupid"

Four armed men entered a house in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles last weekend. The resident, who was home alone, saw them on a security feed and called police before he was confronted by the invaders. As police surrounded the house, two of the suspects fled, while the remaining two came up with an ingenious scheme: they asked the resident to tie them up, and identify them to the police as fellow victims. The resident agreed, tied them up, and then went to tell the police what happened. Police found the two perpetrators who fled, and waited to see what the other two would do. They were promptly arrested. Officer Norma Eisenman of the LAPD told the story.

“They came out, still tied up, thinking that we were going to believe they were victims also,” Eisenman said. “That’s what you call felony stupid.”

Breaking Bad Contest Winner Busted on Drug Charges

Better call Saul! Ryan Carroll of San Carlos Park, Florida, became a local celebrity when he won a nationwide contest from Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul. Carroll, an avid fan of the TV series, was selected to fly to Hollywood and attend a private party with the show's cast. That was in September. On Wednesday, local police arrested Carroll and two other men on charges of "possession of a synthetic narcotic with intent to sell and possession of a controlled substance without a prescription." Since the investigation is still active, police declined to pinpoint what kind of drugs are involved.

Thief Walks Off with 250-pound Safe

Surveillance footage shows what happened to the safe at Stockholders restaurant in Weymouth, Massachusetts. A man walked into the closed restaurant through a side door, talking on his cell phone. Less than six minutes later, he walked out, carrying the 250-pound safe in his arms. Restaurant owner Kevin Hynes said he's never seen anything like it. He said he didn't know how exactly much money was in the safe, but “It was enough to hurt.” Police are investigating. Meanwhile, Hynes has installed a bigger, heavier safe, bolted to the floor.

Stranded Men Set Car Afire to Keep Warm

Police in Pincher Creek, Alberta, responded to a suspicious fire Saturday morning. The story behind it was gradually pieced together. Two men had been in the Honda the day before, but they became lost and then put the car into a ditch. To keep warm, they first tore the seats out of the car and set them on fire in the road. Then they set the entire car on fire.

"Their car was completely consumed by fire," said Cpl. Jeffrey Feist of the Pincher Creek RCMP. "They lit their car on fire because they thought they were going to freeze to death."

When daybreak came, the two men discovered that they were within easy walking distance of a nearby house, and set off to find help.

Rising smoke from the burned-out hulk attracted the attention of a passerby, who called 911.

Corporal Feist told the Echo that both men were in possession of cellular phones.

There you have it. A passerby could call emergency services, so there was cellular service. The two men apparently never thought of just calling for help. They were taken to a hospital for treatment of minor burns and frostbite. One of them was later arrested on outstanding warrants. Corporal Feist said that the RCMP recommends keeping emergency supplies in a car when traveling in winter -such as a cell phone- but they do not recommend burning your vehicle.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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