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Scottish Water

The Weird Week in Review

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Scottish Water

Sewer Blocked by Big Pooh

Scottish Water, a national public utility, has found some unusual objects blocking the sewers underneath Scotland over the past year. That includes a huge plush Winnie-the-Pooh bear in East Kilbride, South Lanarkshire. But they say the list also contains a fax machine, a bike, a snake, and blue jeans. How does anyone get such items down the drain? But the most common objects that block a sewer are grease, diapers, and baby wipes. A new public awareness campaign hopes to discourage people from putting anything into the sewer system that will cause blockages. Unstopping the pipes costs the utility more than £7 million every year.

Selling Girl Scout Cookies Outside a Cannabis Clinic

In a genius marketing move, 13-year-old Girl Scout Danielle Lei, with her mom’s help, set up a cookie stand outside a medical marijuana clinic in San Francisco. The sidewalk in front of the Green Cross dispensary turned out to be a lucrative position: she sold 117 boxes in two hours! That’s 37 more than she sold in front of a grocery store the next day. It’s not the first time Danielle has sold cookies outside a medical marijuana clinic, although it was the first time at this location. No other Scouts in her troop have tried this method, but the local council has no problem with it. Danielle will return to the Green Cross tomorrow to sell more cookies.

Sinkhole Swallows Eight Corvettes

Of all the places a sinkhole can open up and swallow cars, would you believe it had to be in the National Corvette Museum? Western Kentucky is full of underground holes, the most famous of which is Mammoth Cave. Last week, another one was born, right under six rare 'Vettes owned by the museum and two on loan from General Motors.

Bowling Green city spokeswoman Kim Lancaster said the hole opened up at about 5:40 a.m. CST Wednesday, setting off an alarm and a call to the fire department. Frassinelli said no one was in the museum at the time.

The hole is in part of the domed section of the museum, and that area will remain closed. That's an original part of the facility which was completed in 1994. The fire department estimated the hole is about 40 feet across and 25 to 30 feet deep. Pictures of the sinkhole show a collapsed section of floor with multiple cars visible inside the hole. A few feet away, other Corvettes sit undamaged and undisturbed.

No one was injured. The dome is closed, but the rest of the museum remains open.

Identical Quads Born in Mississippi

Kimberly Fugate was expecting triplets, which was unusual enough, as she was about to turn 42 years old and had used no fertility drugs. But when she underwent a cesarian section on February 8, doctors found four baby girls -all identical to each other! Fetal medicine professor Dr. James Bofill says the odds of producing quadruplets without fertility intervention are one in every 729,000 live births. The odds of those quadruplets all being identical are much higher. The quads came almost 13 weeks early, and will probably remain in the hospital until May, their original due date. Fugate and her husband Craig already have a ten-year-old daughter.

Pants Take Banzai Trip to Costa Rica

Jason Anderson went all out and bought a tailored $1300 suit at Judd Frost Clothiers in Wayzata, Minnesota, for his wedding. After picking up the finished suit, he got on a plane and flew to Costa Rica, where the wedding was to take place. Only afterward did Frost discover that Anderson had left his pants behind! Knowing the large groom would never find proper replacement pants in Costa Rica in time for the wedding, the tailor was determined to ship the pants to him.

After finding no help from FedEx, UPS or airline package services to get the missing pants to the church on time, Judd Frost put his 32-year-old daughter on a southbound plane with the $500 tan gabardine suit pants.

Jessie Frost, who works for her dad’s men’s store, took off about 6 a.m. Sunday and landed about 11 hours later at the San Jose International Airport. After waiting an hour for her van driver and enduring a bumpy back-roads detour around a washout, she and the waylaid trousers finally reached the beachfront resort on the Pacific Ocean, where Jason Anderson, 32, of Maple Grove, and his fiancée, Heather Spaeth, 32, of Wayzata, are to be married Monday afternoon.

Now that’s customer service! The groom had no idea the pants were missing until the tailor contacted the bride through Facebook. The trip had side benefits for Jessie, who took her fiancé along. They attended the wedding and are visiting a cousin in Costa Rica.

Ten-year-old Norwegian Joyrider Does It Again

A 10-year-old boy from Dokka, Norway, was in the news last week when he drove his parents’ car several miles from home with his 18-month-old sister along. He had snuck out while the family was asleep. He drove into a ditch, and flagged down a snowplow for help. The boy told the snowplow driver that he was a dwarf, and had ditched the car when he turned around to retrieve his forgotten license.

It wasn’t so funny when the child pulled the same stunt again this week. The boy drove off in his aunt’s car, and the police were called. The child made it 19 miles this time, before he stopped and a bystander took his car keys away. The Vest Oppland police weren’t as forgiving for the second offense, and have reported the family to child services.

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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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