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Gregg Favre via Twitter

The Weird Week in Review

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Gregg Favre via Twitter


A group of Kansas City, Missouri, police officers found themselves stuck in an elevator that stalled because it was over its weight limit. That in itself is embarrassing. We can only speculate how long they sat there discussing their situation before they broke down and called emergency services. The Kansas City Fire Department responded, and couldn’t resist snapping a picture of the rescue. This picture will no doubt be on the wall of every firehouse in the Midwest. If Kansas City puts out a fireman’s calendar, it will be on that, too.


A man driving a large foot was spotted in the Wandsworth borough of London, possibly getting a ticket for driving barefoot from a traffic officer. The police department’s Twitter account shared the picture, and it wasn’t long before an explanation came back. The giant motorized foot is the brainchild of the Wandsworth Fringe Festival’s Ministry of Silly Ideas, launched to promote the festival. There’s no better way to get publicity than to have a viral photograph of a police interaction. The Fringe Festival begins May 6.


Police in Kensington, New Hampshire, arrested 29-year-old Joshua Tackett on charges of driving under the influence after he wrecked his vehicle right in front of the police station. The result was a priceless mug shot with Tackett grinning, barely able to hold his eyes open, and wearing a t-shirt that said “This guy needs a beer.” Police Chief Scott Sanders arrested him Friday night.  

According to Sanders, who responded to the scene, Tackett crossed into the northbound lane and went off the road. He drove through a stonewall and a granite post before after striking a utility pole and getting tangled up the in the pole's guide wires.

His vehicle sustained major damage. The stonewall and granite post were also heavily damaged.

Tackett suffered minor injuries and refused medical treatment at the scene.

Tackett was released on a $750 bond, and presumably went home to await his viral fame.


A lamb born without fleece at a farm in Chilton Foliat in Wiltshire, UK, was rejected by his mother. It was just too odd. Farmer Sally-Ann Fisher says they named the lamb Skippy because he looks like a kangaroo. He’s now being hand-raised by humans. They don’t yet know whether Skippy will be hairless for life, but he’s already got the next best thing -a coat made out of a fluffy old sweater. It will not only keep him warm, but may make him look more like the other sheep on the farm.


Every year since 2008, cyclists in Portland, Oregon, have taken part in a ride called Bowie vs. Prince. They sign up for either team Bowie or Team Prince, and then dress like them for the ride. Founder Lillian Karabaic had considered changing the event in the wake of Bowie’s death.

"Me and my co-leader, with Bowie's death this year, were considering making the ride Bowie vs. Bowie," said Karabaic. "We felt like a lot of people wouldn't want to be Prince in light of it. I guess for better or worse, it's now going to be Bowie vs. Prince again."

Karabaic was thinking about ending the annual ride even before the stars' deaths. She's hoping some other event can take its place next year, but thinks it's fitting this year's bike ride will be the last.

"Bowie vs. Prince is going to be a totally different type of ride this year," she said. "It's going to be a memorial ride."

This year’s event may be the biggest of all, even if it is the last one.


A cat named Boots became stuck high in a tree in Melbourne, Australia, early on Wednesday morning. The RSPCA and the local fire brigade declined to help. The cat’s owner couldn’t afford to hire a professional animal rescue service, and the tree branches were too spindly for anyone to climb.   

To raise the money needed, neighbor Susie Butler started a Go Fund Me account. The required $205 was raised within a day, and Thursday morning Nigel's Animal Rescue managed to get Boots out of the tree. He had been there over 24 hours by then. You can see video of the rescue operation here.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]