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Jim Martin at Facebook

The Weird Week in Review

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Jim Martin at Facebook

D-day Paratrooper Recreates His Jump at Age 93

World War II veteran Jim "Pee Wee" Martin belonged to the 101st Airborne Division that parachuted into Normandy on June 5, 1944, just ahead of the D-Day landing. He did that same jump again 70 years later, which you might expect to be difficult now that Martin is 93 years old. But to Martin, this time around was easier.

"It didn't (compare)," Martin said, "because there wasn't anybody shooting at me today."

Learn more about Martin and his experiences both as a paratrooper in World War II and as a veteran at his Facebook page.

Missing Sussex Pensioner Went To Normandy

An unnamed 89-year-old D-Day veteran was reported missing from his nursing home in Hove, Sussex, England. Police were notified that the pensioner had not been seen since Thursday morning. Police searched for the man, but had no luck. Then late Thursday night, the nursing home received a call from a younger veteran in France. He had met up with the older veteran on a bus bound for Normandy, and said that he was safe and well in a hotel in Ouistreham, France. The older man was determined to be at the 70th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day invasion. The younger veteran assured the home that he would accompany the man back when the ceremonies concluded. (Thanks, M.V.!)

Gorilla Shot With Tranquilizer was Man in a Gorilla Suit

A strange incident was reported at the Loro Parque zoo in Tenerife, Canary Islands. A zoo employee had donned a gorilla suit and looked a little too real for zoo visitors and one veterinarian.

La Opinión de Tenerife reports that the man had donned a gorilla suit and was running around the park in a drill to prepare employees for an actual animal escape. The tranquilizer-wielding veterinarian apparently did not know the exercise was in progress and shot the zoo worker in the leg from a distance.

Local police arrived at the zoo following reports that a gorilla was loose. The incident was reportedly deemed an accident.

The employee was taken to a local hospital because he had an allergic reaction to the tranquilizer. He is listed in serious condition.

Neighborhood Shoe Thief is a Fox

Elaine Hewitt of Horsforth, a suburb of Leeds, England, is the unwilling recipient of stolen shoes. Shoes began showing up in her backyard one at a time a few months ago. Now she gets a new shoe every day, and has resorted to putting up a rack in front of her house so neighbors can claim their shoes. The culprit is a fox, who lives in the nearby woods with a litter of kits. Hewitt has seen the fox carrying shoes a couple of times, but cannot figure out why they are brought to her home. She just hopes the mother fox isn’t passing her thieving habit on to her five kits.

Kentucky Education Agency Misspelled “Kentucky”

When my daughter brought this book home, I knew it would make the news sooner or later. The Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority published a book on college planning and distributed it to every high school junior in the state. It took students no time at all to notice that the word “Kentucky” on the book’s spine is spelled with only one k, as “Kentucy.” Reprinting the book would cost the state $700,000, so the KHEAA has decided to just deal with the embarrassment.

Puppy Drives Car into Pond

John Costello took his puppy, Rosie, for a walk near a pond in Canton, Massachusetts, on Sunday. The 12-week-old puppy excitedly jumped in the car as Costello started it up. Rosie jumped into the front seat, knocked the gear shift into forward gear, and then fell onto the gas pedal. The car sped off—straight into the pond. As the car sank, the puppy jumped back into the back seat, which caused a few moments panic.

And that's when Eric Hermann, who was working nearby, rushed to help.

"It was about 30 feet out the car," Hermann said. "Puppy was scared and ran to the back seat. The front door was open, [we were] trying to get him out the front door, coax him."

Hermann, Costello and another man all swam to save Rosie.

"I just leaped in and grabbed the dog and pulled her out and we both fell back into the water," said Costello.

Everyone made it out of the water just fine, but the car, which belongs to Costello’s daughter, is a total loss.

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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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