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Tania Pires

The Weird Week in Review

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Tania Pires

Train Derails When Car is Pierced by Metal

A metro train in Sydney, Australia, derailed Wednesday when a piece of metal jabbed through the floor of a passenger car and rose up through the train. Passengers on the train said there was something wrong, that the train made loud noises and emitted a burning smell since it left Bondi Junction. As the train neared the Edgecliff Station, a metal bar was sheared off the concrete below the train. Passenger Kiriana Buffett was near the point where the bar entered the car.

"I just remember seeing it punch through the floor and then towards me – I don't know what happened next," said Ms Buffett, who sat in shock for 20 minutes after the incident. "Someone said it slowed down but I didn't see it go slow at any stage. I'm pretty lucky to be alive actually."

The chief executive of Sydney Trains, Howard Collins, said the bar that broke through the carriage was a piece of "metal channelling" attached to a concrete walkway near Edgecliff Station.

The train stopped, and its 700 passengers were evacuated. One line of the railway was closed, but was reopened by Thursday.

Car Thieves Foiled By Stick Shift

An attempted carjacking in Springfield, Massachusetts, ended with food being the only item stolen. A food delivery driver was stopped and calling to alert a customer that their order had arrived when he was rushed by three men. They demanded the car and the food, but none of the three could drive a car with a manual transmission. Each tried to operate the stick shift, but they ultimately left, taking the dinner order with them. The incident is under investigation.

Drunk Driver Busted by Parrot

Guillermo Reyes was driving home from a bar in Mexico City when he encountered a DUI traffic stop. When police talked to him, they heard a voice from inside the car saying, "He's drunk! He's drunk!" They shone a light into the car, but there were no other passengers, just Reyes' parrot. Apparently he'd heard people say that phrase enough to learn it. The cops gave Reyes a Breathalyzer test, and concluded that he was, indeed, driving while impaired. Reyes was sent to the drunk tank overnight, and the parrot was allowed to accompany him. The original story is in Spanish at El Universal. Google translation

The Front Page Had an Error on It for Over a Century

In 1999, a 24-year-old news assistant at the New York Times discovered a strange mistake in the edition numbers of the New York Times. Aaron Donovan was responsible for numbering each issue, by adding one to the previous issue number. The possibility of an error led him to run a spreadsheet over the history of the newspaper, all the way back to 1851. He discovered that in February of 1898, such an error occurred, and it had never been caught in the hundred years since! The news assistant who numbered the issues had added one to the previous edition, which was 14,499, and got 15,000. It's an easy mistake to make, but the numbering error continued for the next century. The mistake was corrected when the Times published the January 1, 2000, issue with a number that skipped ahead by 501 instead of just one.

Kittens Break Into Prison, Steal Hearts

Staff at the Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Fort Ann, New York, discovered four new inmates a few months ago. A litter of kittens had found their way into the basement of the prison. They were infested with fleas and worms, but after bathing and medicine, they took to their new home. Employees and inmates at the prison chip in to care for the kittens, who had to be hand-fed with bottles. They have been named Comstock, Annie, and Meadow for locations around the prison, and the fourth is Doc, short for Department of Corrections. The kittens could be taken home with staff members who want to adopt them, but if they remain in the prison, they'll be well cared for by the inmates who love them. See more pictures here

Pimp Sues Nike After Conviction for Stomping Man's Face

Sirgiorgiro Clardy of Portland, Oregon, was convicted of assault and robbery following an incident in which a man failed to pay a prostitute under Clardy's control. He received a 100-year sentence. Now Clardy has filed a $100 million lawsuit against Nike.

Jurors early in 2013 found him guilty of second-degree assault for using his Jordans -- a dangerous weapon -- to beat the john's face to a pulp. The man required stitches and plastic surgery on his nose.

The jury also found him guilty of robbing the john and beating the 18-year-old woman he forced to work as his prostitute. She was injured so badly that she bled from her ears.

In his three-page complaint handwritten from the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton, Clardy claims that Nike, Chairman Phil Knight and other executives failed to warn consumers that the shoes could be used as a weapon to cause serious injury or death.

It appears that Clardy expects the lawsuit to be thrown out as frivolous, which could give him ammunition to appeal the "with a deadly weapon" portion of the charges, which lengthens the sentence.

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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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