CLOSE

There’s a Zoo for Sale on Craigslist (Animals Included)

If you’re an animal lover who has ever fantasized about owning a zoo—or a fan of Cameron Crowe movies with a 66 percent Rotten Tomatoes score—we’ve got good news: your wildest dream could be about to come true. The Ocala Star Banner reports that the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park, a private zoo in Crestview, Florida, is looking to sell its property, including its nearly 100 exotic animals. The strange part? They’re selling it via Craigslist.

Scroll past the $10 pair of artificial trees and a $75 hat commemorating the Atlanta Braves’s '95 World Series championship and you’ll see that, for $350,000, you can become the proud owner of a “ten acre, well maintained USDA Compliant Zoo … with over 90 happy and healthy animals including White Tiger, Bengal Tiger, African Lion, Patas monkeys, bob cats, baboons, wolves, otters, black bear, Fennec foxes, sloth, lemurs, llamas and more.” Haven’t a clue what Fennec foxes eat, or even what one looks like? No worries—the property’s current staff of zookeepers is coming along for the ride (though one assumes that their salaries won’t come out of the $350K you just forked over).

There’s also a gift shop (with inventory), a Stuff-a-Plush machine, a commissary, storage barns, and a half-acre of undeveloped property, in case you want to expand the animals’ current living quarters or even build your own home right in the zoo.

While the ad notes that this is a “Great business opportunity for someone who loves animals with a professional staff in place to care for them,” it’s worth noting that the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge only took over the property in 2013.

Bill Andersen, president and chairman of the Refuge’s board of directors, explained that they took over the property because it had fallen into a state of disrepair. The group has spent the past four years making massive improvements to the grounds and outbuildings. “While rescuing the animals initially was in keeping with their mission,” writes the Ocala Star Banner, “continuing to run a zoo is not.”

“We’ve spent an awful lot of time getting those critters happy and healthy, updating habitats, and providing them with a quality place to live,” Andersen said. “I think our zoo is in the best shape it’s ever been.”

Though Andersen has hopes that the City of Crestview and Okaloosa County might be interested in taking over the zoo, he believes the next best option would be a passionate animal lover who has the desire, and financial means, to keep the zoo running and the animals happy.

“It’s got to be a buyer who shares our concern for the welfare of these critters,” Andersen said.

Are you listening, Matt Damon?

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
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
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]

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