CLOSE
Original image

The Weird Week in Review

Original image

Elevated Motorcycle

How did this happen? We really don’t know! The motorcycle accident reportedly occurred early Saturday morning in Fortaleza, in northeastern Brazil. The news outlet reporting the accident heard several different versions of the story. A couple of versions had the wiring pole on the ground and then standing back up somehow, and others told of a motorcycle going so fast that it launched into the air. There is even confusion as to the nature of the pole, with the electric company claiming it belongs to the phone company, and vice versa. There are more pictures here

The Oddest Book Title of the Year

The annual Diagram Prize for the oddest book title has been awarded to How to Poo on a Date: The Lovers' Guide to Toilet Etiquette. The winner was decided by votes, and the book by Mats & Enzo barely defeated Are Trout South African? by Duncan Brown and The Origin of Feces by David Waltner-Toews.

Horace Bent, The Bookseller’s diarist and the custodian of the prize, said: “The public have chosen wisely. Not only have they picked a title that truly captures the spirit of the prize, they have selected a manual that can help one through life’s more challenging and delicate moments.”

The winning authors have been nominated for the Diagram Prize twice before, for books with a similar theme. This year, they are number one for a book about number two. Although there is no actual prize, the honor does bring a bit of publicity.

Snake Eats Golf Balls, Undergoes Surgery

A gray rat snake was found in a chicken coop in north Georgia. The snake had two large round objects in its stomach, which, from the fact that it was in a chicken coop, you’d think would be chicken eggs. The snake apparently thought so, too, but they were golf balls. Now here’s the really weird part: the chicken owner took the snake to get help for its problem! A team of veterinarians at the Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island performed surgery and removed the golf balls from the snake. The reptile is recovering, and will be returned to the wild when it is deemed healthy. No doubt it will head straight to the nearest chicken coop when that happens. Or a golf course.

Psychic Appearance Canceled Due to ‘Unforeseen Circumstances'

A performance titled An Evening of Mediumship with International Medium June Field was supposed to take place April 3rd at the Darwen Library Theatre in Darwen, Lancashire, UK, but it has been canceled due to “unforeseen circumstances.” Another show in Aberdeen on April 9th is also canceled. Ticket holders can get refunds. Someone should tell the production staff that it would be in their best interest to make up a story, because any other reason on earth would work better for the profession. As it is, the jokes just write themselves.

Yacht Problems Excite Crowd

A luxury yacht named the Victoria, estimated to be worth at least £1million, tried to negotiate the Richmond Bridge in London on Sunday. It did not go well. The river was about 7 feet higher than normal, and the boat kept crashing into the stone bridge in front of an appreciative crowd of onlookers.

The crew’s misfortune attracted little sympathy from crowds lining the banks.

Lesley-Anne said: “Some people were jeering. People were laughing at him and a guy in a dinghy was filming it all.”

The boat was able to return home once the water level had dropped. Meanwhile, the experience is enshrined in YouTube videos. See part two here.

Rare Egg Saved with Tape and Glue

A kakapo is an extremely endangered, heavy, flightless parrot. There are only around 125 of these birds left in New Zealand. So it was frightening when a kakapo named Lisa accidentally stepped on her own egg. Ranger Jo Ledington repaired the egg as best she could, with masking tape and glue. Lisa was given a dummy egg, and the taped egg was placed in an incubator for safety. On February 28th, the egg hatched and a new kakapo named Lisa One was introduced to the world. By surviving this long, the chick may look forward to a long life—kakapos live to an average of 95 years.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
Opening Ceremony
fun
arrow
These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
Original image
Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES