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めめめ ‏@mememe_sh

The Weird Week in Review

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めめめ ‏@mememe_sh

Please Do Not Feed This Cat

A 7-11 store in Kanto, Japan, has reached its limit over a known shoplifter. The store posted a sign with a picture of the perpetrator, a cat described as “three-apples-tall, black, and walks in an aloof manner.” The cat has been helping himself to cat food from the store for some time. The sign reads, in part:

We need your help
Please do not feed this cat.
It enters the store and shoplifts cat food.
We told the cat that it was banned from the store but it didn’t listen.
Thank you for your cooperation

You’d think that feeding the cat would actually stem the crime wave, but what do I know? He may be selling the cat food on the streets for meth or something. A picture of the sign has been retweeted 19,000 times.

The Vending Machine Incident

Robert McKevitt of Spirit Lake, Iowa, worked at a warehouse in Milford. One night, he put a dollar in a vending machine to get a Twix bar, but the candy would not drop. It teetered on the very end of the hook. McKevitt banged on the machine, then rocked, it, but it was no use. So he went and got a forklift, and allegedly lifted and dropped the vending machine several times, which caused it to release three candy bars. He was fired from the job five days later. At McKevitt’s unemployment benefits hearing, he said he never dropped the machine, but used the forklift to set it back in place after rocking it. He said he’s heard that the company now has all-new vending machines. McKevitt was denied unemployment benefits.

Rampaging Elephant Destroys House, Then Saves Infant

In the Purulia district of West Bengal, india, a rogue elephant has villagers terrified after killing at least three people and destroying 17 homes in the past year. The animal returned Monday evening and began to wreck Dipak Mahato’s home. It broke through a wall, but stopped when it heard the cries of the family’s 10-month-old baby laying in the crib. The elephant carefully used its trunk to pick up the debris covering the child. The elephant then turned and left, walking away calmly. The little girl was taken to the hospital with external injuries and is expected to recover fully.

Epic Spelling Bee Ends

Saturday, the Jackson County, Missouri, Spelling Bee finally came to an end -after two weeks and more than 90 rounds of elimination. Or actually, attempts at elimination. The final two contenders, fifth-grader Sophia Hoffman and seventh-grader Kush Sharma, went 66 rounds and spelled their way through the entire list of available words during the initial spelling bee in February. Officials called a delay while they gathered more words. Two weeks later, the two students went another 30 rounds to decide a winner.

"It took us an hour to find more words," head judge Kaite Stover, a librarian at the Kansas City Public Library Central Branch, told Carter of the competition's first day, on Feb. 22. "And we were looking for words that were not completely archaic and uncommon."

But Hoffman, 11, and Sharma, 13, answered the challenge each time, relying on their knowledge of word origins and prefixes to see them through. After more than five hours, organizers threw up their hands to set up today's event.

The judges brought a fresh batch of 200 words to bear Saturday, from a list provided by the Scripps National Spelling Bee. They also had around 60 backup words just in case they're needed, the library says.

In the end, Hoffman was eliminated by the word “stifling,” and Sharma correctly spelled “definition” and will advance to the national bee. But officials should start preparing now because both students will still be eligible to compete next year.

Man Trapped in Bathtub Smashed by Car

Gary Dean Melton was taking a peaceful bath at his home in Oklahoma City Sunday afternoon when he suddenly found himself in a traffic accident. A Volkswagen driven by Jeremy Stewart came crashing through the brick wall of the house, smashing porcelain in the bathroom, and pinning Melton under the rubble. Stewart had fallen asleep while driving. Firefighters pulled the car out of the house and freed Melton. Melton was taken to a hospital with a large cut on his leg. Stewart was given an energy drink and a ticket for distracted driving. His insurance company will not be pleased.

Cat Terrorizes Family

A family in Portland, Oregon, was held hostage in a bedroom by their 22-pound cat Lux. The cat had attacked and scratched Lee Palmer’s 7-month-old baby and threatened the rest of the family. Palmer called 911.

Dispatchers stayed on the phone while the couple locked themselves — along with their baby and the family dog — in a bedroom, Simpson said.

Owner Lee Palmer told dispatchers the 4-year-old male cat "has a history of violence," and had scratched his 7-month old son in the forehead.

Palmer said he tried to get the cat off his son: "I kicked the cat in the rear, and it has gone over the edge. He's trying to attack us -- he's very hostile. He's at our door; he's charging us."

Police responded and were able to wrestle to cat into a carrier with a dog snare. The 911 recording can be heard at the Oregonian.

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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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May 23, 2017
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