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Jennifer Lapier

The Weird Week in Review

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Jennifer Lapier

A Visit to the Collision Repair Shop

Jennifer Lapier of Colleyville, Texas, was contacted by police New Year's night and was told that someone had entered her business, Lone Star Collision Repair. That someone was driving a GMC Yukon. The SUV had crashed into a sedan and then into the building, right under the sign.

A grandfather who was driving the sedan that was hit was transported to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries along with his granddaughter, who was in the passenger seat.

"Had somebody been in the backseat, they would not have survived," said Captain Robert Hinton with the Colleyville Police. "There was very little left of the car."

The shop was open the next day, and Lapier said no cars were damaged, but the storage room has a big hole in the wall. The unnamed driver of the SUV was taken into custody. Police believed that alcohol may have been a factor.

Thai Woman Found in Suitcase at Mexican Border

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials stopped a 56-year-old Phoenix man as he re-entered the U.S. from Mexico at Nogales, and his vehicle was selected for further inspection. When officers opened a large suitcase he had in the back of the SUV, they found a woman curled up inside! The woman, identified as Thai national Pornkamol Mongkolsermsak, had been deported from the U.S. only ten days before. The unnamed man's vehicle was confiscated.

Dogs Are Terrible Drivers

Tabitha Ormaechea of Spokane, Washington, was driving home when another car hit hers. She looked, but could find no driver, save for a small chihuahua in the driver's seat. The car's owner, Jason Martinez, had left the dog in the car while he went into a store. The chihuahua, named Toby, somehow knocked the car out of gear. It then rolled out of the parking lot and into the street, where it collided with Ormaechea's vehicle. No one was injured.

Pastafarian Councilman Sworn in Wearing Colander

Christopher Schaeffer was sworn in as a member of the town council in Pomfret, New York, last week while wearing a colander on his head.

Schaeffer wore a colander (a strainer typically used to drain water from spaghetti) while Town Clerk Allison Dispense administered the oath of office to him before the board's reorganizational meeting. When the OBSERVER asked afterward why he wore a colander on his head, Schaeffer said he was a minister with an even more unique organization - the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

"It's just a statement about religious freedom," he said. "It's a religion without any dogma."

While Pastafarians have fought for the right to wear colanders in their driver's license photographs, this is the first instance of an elected official wearing one to be sworn into office.

Shoplifter Leads Police on Chase Behind Motorized Shopping Cart

Police in Warrenton, Oregon, arrested 59-year-old Laurie Ruth Chester on charges of theft and disorderly conduct. The incident began when an employee of a Subway shop called to report a woman stealing $13 from a tip jar. Theft calls about a woman with a similar description then came in from Fred Meyer, Rite Aid, and Home Depot. At Home Depot, Chester was seen using a motorized shopping cart to take a basket full of merchandise out of the store. She drove the shopping cart out onto the road, where police found her. Police Chief Mathew Workman said that Chester has a record of bizarre behavior in other precincts.

Firefighter Puts Out Fire with Beer

An off-duty Houston firefighter stopped to help a truck driver on the shoulder of Texas 71. Capt. Craig Moreau saw smoke coming from the brakes of an 18-wheeler. He crawled underneath the truck and tried to put out the flame with a fire extinguisher, but it kept flaring back up. Then the two men tried another tactic. The truck was hauling beer, so they shook can after can of beer to spray on the fire. The tire exploded, but they eventually got the blaze put out. Strangely, the driver had just had the brakes repaired. The local fire chief praised Moreau and the driver for their resourcefulness.

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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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