CLOSE
Original image

The Weird Week in Review

Original image

Donkey Not Reliable Getaway Vehicle

Three thieves dropped in through the roof and robbed a store at 2AM in Juan de Acosta, Colombia. They took rum and a variety of food and loaded the goods onto their getaway vehicle -a donkey they had stolen earlier. However, the donkey, a 10-year-old animal named Xavi, did not want to cooperate and began braying loudly. The commotion drew the attention of police in the small town, and the thieves fled on foot. The stolen items and the donkey were returned to their respective owners.

Goat Cheese Fire Closes Tunnel

A truck carrying 27 tonnes of Brunost, a caramelized brown goat milk cheese, caught fire as it traveled through the Brattli Tunnel at Tysfjord, Norway. The driver abandoned the vehicle about 1,000 feet from the tunnel's end. The fire burned for five days straight, while toxic fumes kept firefighters at a distance. No one was injured in the incident, but the tunnel may remain closed for several weeks.

Welsh Tourist Wrestles Australian Shark

Paul Marshallsea of Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, was barbecuing at Bulcock Beach in Australia when he heard bathers yell "Shark!" The 62-year-old tourist saw a shark approaching children and ran into the water, grabbed the shark, and pulled it away from the youngsters.

Helicopters and lifesavers on water bikes later lured the shark out to sea with the tide.

An Australian coastguard spokesman said: "We don't recommend manhandling sharks but this gentleman did a great job."

The six-foot dusky shark snapped at Marshallsea's leg, but missed by a fraction of an inch. A nearby TV crew caught the action on video.

Live Otters Found in Unclaimed Luggage

A suitcase was left unclaimed in the oversize luggage area of the Suvarnabhumi International Airport in Bangkok on Tuesday. There were no identifying tags on the bag, so customs officers opened it and found 11 juvenile otters -alive! They were identified as six Smooth Coated Otters and five Oriental Small Clawed Otters. Wildlife traffic investigators in Asia said they have seen otter skins being smuggled, but this is the first case of live otters intercepted in transit. The otters were sent to the Bang-Pra Breeding Center in Chonburi.

Chicken Wing Shortage May Affect Super Bowl Parties

The day of the Super Bowl is the second-biggest day for eating in America, ranked just behind Thanksgiving. A game day staple, the chicken wing, will be scarcer and more expense this year. Chicken producers raised fewer birds this year due to the high price of feed corn, which was affected by the nationwide drought. Only 1.23 billion wing segments will be available on Super Bowl weekend, which is 12.3 million less than the number consumed last year. The wholesale price of chicken wings is at an all-time high, at $2.11 a pound in the northeast.

Boy Fakes Kidnapping to Hide Bad Grades

An unidentified 11-year-old boy in Xinzo de Limia, Spain, sent his father a text message to say he'd been kidnapped. When the father called the son's phone, the boy whispered that he'd been grabbed off the street and put in the back seat of a car. The father, a policeman, issued a nationwide alert and authorities set up roadblocks across the region. Within a few hours, the child was found hiding in an empty apartment.

The boy explained that he had come up with the elaborate ruse to stop his parents talking to his teacher in a meeting scheduled for that afternoon fearing that they would be angry over his recent poor grades.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
arrow
technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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
iStock
arrow
technology
Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
Original image
iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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