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Brian Kelley

The Weird Week in Review

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Brian Kelley

Oh Deer, What an Embarrassing Position

This is not what you pictured when you tried to leap that small fence, is it? The deer didn’t quite make it over the picket fence Sunday morning. The Kelley family of Attleboro, Massachusetts woke up to find the poor deer hanging upside-down from the point where its rear legs were caught between the pickets. Luckily, the pickets in this fairly-new fence slide out, so Brian Kelley was able to free the deer. The deer seemed to be okay, and Kelley did not get kicked in the face as expected

Released From Prison, Man Returns to Scene of Crime

Christopher M. Miller was convicted of robbing a Stride Rite shoe store (among other locations) in Toms River, New Jersey, in 1999. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, and remained in custody until last week. Miller was released at the end of his sentence on March 21. On March 22, a robber took $400 from the same Stride Rite store and fled on foot. It only took a few minutes for police to catch up with Miller and arrest him. Police were surprised to find out he had just gotten out of prison for robbing that very same store! They speculate that Miller may have subconsciously wanted to be caught and taken back to prison.

Here’s a 125-Pound Hot Dog

There’s a really big weiner at the Miami-Dade County Fair. In other news, Miami-Dade County has a fair in March. This hot dog may soon be in the Guinness Book as the largest hot dog ever.

Weighing in at 125.5 pounds — the naked dog tipped the scale at 51 pounds; the rest of the heft came from a gargantuan bun and gallons of condiments — the dog was cooked for three hours on a 100-foot mobile grill that travels from fair to fair on the bed of a 27-ton tractor-trailer.

Brett Enright, founder and CEO of Juicy’s Outlaw Grill, already holds the Guinness record for largest commercially available hamburger. His 777-pound behemoth burger costs $5,000 and can be ordered with two days’ notice.

The hot dog can be bought, too -he’ll make one for your party for just $1,000. The fair hot dog was weighed, photographed, and sliced up and sold for a dollar a sample, with proceeds going to charity.

Bank Error Put $31,000 into Teenager’s Account

First Citizens Bank in Hull, Georgia, has several account holders with the same name. But instead of double checking account numbers, they deposited one man’s $31,000 into the account of an 18-year-old with the same name. The teenager must have felt like he won the lottery, because that’s how he acted. He withdrew $20,000 in cash and spent $5,000 with his bank card. It was March 17, ten days after the deposit, before the original depositor complained to the bank. Only then did the bank discover the error. The teenager came into the bank wanting more money, and was told to return the erroneous deposit. The teen insisted it was an inheritance, but a deputy went to his home, and the teenager agreed to settle with the bank to avoid jail. However, he has yet to return to the bank.

He Thought He Was Superman

Christopher Reeves was arrested in Utah for DUI and drug charges. He was wearing a Superman shirt at the time.

The 33-year-old Reeves (seen in the above mug shot) was allegedly speeding and driving erratically around 3 AM when Davis County sheriff's deputies pulled over his vehicle.

Reeves, who appeared impaired, was arrested after failing a field sobriety test. A subsequent search of his car turned up a large bag of meth, drug paraphernalia, and the synthetic drug Spice.

Investigators pointed out that Reeves is not related to the late Christopher Reeve, who portrayed Superman in film. He is presumably also not related to George Reeves, who played Superman in the 1950s TV series. The real Superman would not have needed a vehicle to go that fast.

15-inch Rat Terrorizes Swedish Family

The Bengtsson-Korsås family of Solna, near Stockholm, Sweden, became concerned when their cat would not go in the kitchen. When they took out the garbage, they saw a monstrous rat, 15 inches long, not counting the tail. It had chewed its way between a wooden panel and a concrete wall to enter the house. The rat had been staying under the dishwasher, where it had chewed through a water pipe. Exterminators set industrial-sized traps, but the rat carried off a trap when it sprung on him. The rat finally choked to death, with the trap still on him, behind a house plant.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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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iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
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iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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