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Enchanted Forest at Facebook

The Weird Week in Review

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Enchanted Forest at Facebook

Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall

A cement version of Humpty Dumpty, created by artist Roger Tofte, sat on a wall at Enchanted Forest theme park in Salem, Oregon, since 1970. Until Saturday, when two men climbed the wall. And Humpty Dumpty fell. Maybe the king’s men were unable, but Tofte, now 84 years old, said he would take a crack at it. Not a repair, but making a new Humpty Dumpty from scratch.

“It’s going to take a few hours to start from scratch again,” Tofte told KOIN 6 News, but he said he has “some creative juices left.”

The men who caused the accident said they would pay for the damage.

Draft Notices Sent to Men Born in 1800s

The Selective Service System normally sends out notices to young men reminding them they are obligated to register for the draft. A mass mailing in Pennsylvania was addressed to 14,000 men who were born from 1893 to 1897. Relatives of the men, who are all deceased, began calling to ask if it was a joke. The mistake was traced to a clerk at the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation who did not select a century when transferring records of 400,000 men to the Selective Service database. The mailings were supposed to only go to those born between 1993 and 1997, but also included their great-grandfathers. A large number of those men presumably served in World War I. The Selective Service posted an apology on its website on Thursday.

Kansas Woman Sets House on Fire to Kill Spider

Ginny M. Griffith of Hutchinson, Kansas, found a spider in her home, so naturally, she set a fire to get rid of it. Firefighters responded to reports of smoke coming from Griffith’s duplex and found smoldering clothing and multiple points of origin for the fire. Griffith said she lit some towels on fire to kill the spider. There were no injuries and little damage, but Griffith was arrested for attempted arson because the other side of the duplex was occupied.

Dog Coughs Up Missing Wedding Ring Lost 6 Years Ago

Lois Matykowski of Wisconsin lost her diamond wedding ring six years ago. She searched everywhere, as the ring was fairly new and not insured, but never found it. Then last week, her ten-year-old dog Tucker swallowed a popsicle stick. Tucker is famous for stealing food and eating anything that isn’t nailed down. A veterinarian advised her to feed the dog a Vaseline sandwich, which she did, and he threw up the popsicle stick. Two days later, the dog threw up again, and this time, Matykowski’s wedding ring came up! It had apparently been inside the dog all those years. The veterinarian says the popsicle stick must have dislodged it. Now Matykowski is getting jokes from friends who are jealous that she has a dog that pukes up diamonds.

Venomous Snake Found in Toilet

Construction workers on the job in Hueytown, Alabama, were shocked to find a snake in a toilet. Willie Harris first thought it was a joke, but then the snake moved. The Hueytown Police Department responded to the call about a highly venomous cottonmouth.

Police officer Alice Thompson used two batons to turn the snake. Once she had the snake in the right position, she grabbed it by its head.

"I was holding it actually on the corners of the mouth where the mouth was actually open at the time. Which for me, that was actually the first time I'd ever seen fangs that were folded back in a snake," Thompson told WBRC.

She did all of this while her two male partners, as well as the construction workers, huddled in a corner and watched.

The snake was released away from the construction site.

The Smell of Farts May Prevent Cancer

A new study out of the University of Exeter says catching a whiff of noxious gasses, like those in flatulence, could help the human body repair cell damage and prevent debilitating diseases such as cancer. Hydrogen sulfide gas is produced when bacteria breaks down food, during digestion or when food rots. An occasional dose of the gas helps to preserve mitochondria in human cells. But scientists aren’t advocating that we seek out flatulence: they are working on a compound, called AP39, that could deliver tiny doses to the body as needed.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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© Nintendo
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.