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Angie Kaleskas

The Weird Week in Review

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Angie Kaleskas

Play It Where It Lies

Yes, a golf ball landed on an alligator. Golfers at Myakka Pines golf course in Englewood, Florida, saw an alligator with a golf ball on its head. At first, it was a mystery as to how the ball got there. If a golf shot had landed on the gator, the golfer apparently took advantage of club rules that allow a free drop. You have to wonder if the rules specifically state the circumstance of a ball landing on an alligator. Some speculated that someone had placed it there, but that seems a bit far-fetched. Later, a it was discovered that golfer Al Lancaster had earlier thrown a ball at the gator, and it stuck between the ridges of the reptile’s head.

Sleepwalking Statue Scares Students at Wellesley

An art exhibit by sculptor Tony Matelli at Wellesley College in Massachusetts includes an outdoor installation of a man walking in only his underpants. The statue, called Sleepwalker, is life-size and very realistic, and it was placed in a high-traffic area of the campus. As soon as it was installed on February 3rd, students and motorists were alarmed, then angry. A petition to remove the statue has been circulated. Davis Museum director Lisa Fischman said the artwork was designed to evoke a response and provoke dialogue. The exhibition, Tony Matelli: New Gravity is scheduled to remain through spring.

Don’t Carjack in a Garage

An unnamed woman in Chicago became the victim of a carjacking Saturday when a man approached her and demanded the keys to her 2012 Honda MDX. The victim complied and then fled, but since the car was still in her garage, she closed the garage door as soon as she got outside! The carjacker was trapped until police arrived.

Andre Bacon, 21, of the 11300 block of South Harvard Avenue, faces felony attempted vehicle hijacking and theft charges in connection to the botched carjacking Saturday in the Cragin neighborhood on the Northwest Side, according to court records.

Bacon is being held on $75,000 bail.

Cat Came Home in a Bear Trap

A cat in Royal Oaks, California, came home dragging an illegal bear trap he triggered. Scruffy’s right front paw was trapped, but he made it as far as the family’s driveway before he was found and taken to a veterinary clinic. Veterinarian Dave Carroll and a nurse removed the trap. Carroll said that if a person had stepped on the trap, it would have broken an ankle.

Most animals, wild and domestic, who step in traps usually don't survive. Carroll credited Scruffy's scrappy spirit for helping him drag the trap all the way back to his house so that he could be found.

East Lake Animal Clinic is caring for Scruffy free of charge. The SPCA is investigating the case and attempting to find out who is responsible for setting up the illegal trap.

On Friday veterinarian Elizabeth Martin said the cat was in good spirits and recovering well.

Scruffy’s paw may have to amputated, but his difficult journey home saved his life.

Florida Man Burns Down Apartment Building Out of Anger

Kenneth Haskins of Tampa, Florida, was arrested on charges of arson after he torched his apartment building. Haskins admitted setting the fire in revenge against the building management. A building manager recently told Haskins to stop masturbating in front of his open window. No one was injured in the fire, but four apartments were heavily damaged. Be aware that Haskins’ mug shot may be disturbing, because he was disfigured a few years ago when he shot himself in the face.

Deaf Composer is Neither Composer nor Deaf

Mamoru Samuragochi was known as “the Japanese Beethoven,” for his acclaimed classical compositions written despite his hearing loss. He’s been lauded for his works for over twenty years, but now has admitted that he didn’t write the music he produced after his hearing began to fail in 1990. They were actually written by Takashi Niigaki, who Samuragochi hired to compose music. Niigaki came forward about the deception when Japanese figure skater Daisuke Takahashi was announced to have selected Samuragochi’s “Sonatina for Violin” as his skating routine music for the Olympics. Adding to the scandal, Niigaki said that Samuragochi isn’t even deaf. The news has rocked the classical music community in Japan.

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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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