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19 Videos That Make Learning Fun

Labor Day generally marks the end of summer and the start of a new school year. These fun educational videos for all ages should ease the sting of returning to school and help make studying more enjoyable.

History

"Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage" by Soomo Publishing

This might be our favorite: a fantastic, well-produced women's suffrage parody of Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" from the educational publishing company Soomo.

"Gutenberg" by History for Music Lovers

The Hawaiian-based history teachers behind History for Music Lovers created this text-only video, a parody of Blondie's "Sunday Girl," to teach about the creator of the printing press. Visit their YouTube channel for more great history-based parodies of popular songs.

"Too Late to Apologize: A Declaration" by Soomo Publishing

Yes, it's a second video from Soomo, but they're both too good not to include. This parody of One Republic's "Apologize" was actually the first educational parody music video they produced; after its success (it has received more than 3 million views on YouTube), they created the "Bad Romance" video.

"The Animated Bayeux Tapestry" by David Newton of Potion Graphics

Originally a college project, this video brings the Bayeux Tapestry to life.

"Famous Last Words" by Ransom Riggs for mental_floss

Of course we had to include our own fun clip about some of history's most famous last words!

Science

"Meet the Elements" by They Might Be Giants

This introduction to the scientific elements from They Might Be Giants is off the band's Grammy Award-nominated album Here Comes Science. Check out more of TMBG's videos on YouTube.

Bill Nye the Science Guy on Static Electricity

Visit TheRealBillNye on YouTube for more clips from the classic science show, and visit his web site for media and educational materials.

"Classification Rap" by T.H. Culhane

This video was made back in 1989, way before YouTube made it quick and easy to share educational videos. Culhane's Melodic-Mnemonic approach to education helped his at-risk students succeed in school; he has gone on to work with the State Department's Cultural Affairs program to hold science workshops around the world.

Math

"Pi: Each and Every Time" by Ignite! Learning

The educational company Ignite! Learning created this song to explain the concept of pi.

"Calculus Rhapsody" by Paul Kirk & Mike Gospel

This parody of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" explains calculus. Click through to YouTube for the lyrics.

Geography

"The Countries of Your Planet" by Marco Polo

For more videos exploring the world from Team Marco Polo, visit their YouTube channel.

"50 States Song" by Mallory Lewis & Lamb Chop

Mallory Lewis, daughter of Lamb Chop's creator Shari Lewis, has picked up where her mom left off, and tours the country performing with the beloved puppet.

"50 State Capitols" by Wakko on Animaniacs

This is one of the most popular Animaniacs clips on YouTube, with more than 5 million views. (Judging by the comments, quite a few people watch the video to study for their tests.)

English

"History of English" by The Open University

This 11-minute video combines all 10 parts of Open University's video series on the history of the English language.

"Celebrities Sing Alphabet Song" by Sesame Street

Over the years, many celebrities have sung the alphabet song on Sesame Street. To promote the 2011-2012 season of the children's show, they released this celebrity compilation video. You can watch many more Sesame Street clips on the official YouTube channel.

"Conjunction Junction" by Schoolhouse Rock

Who can forget this classic from the popular animated educational series Schoolhouse Rock?

Art

"Three Primary Colors" by OK Go on Sesame Street

The guys of OK Go teach kids about the three primary colors and how they mix. Watch more Sesame Street videos on the official YouTube channel.

"The History of Art in 3 Minutes" by LikeFilms.org

A brief and humorous overview of art history. Note: Contains some not-safe-for-children/work words.

"500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art" by Philip Scott Johnson

This video, nominated as Most Creative Video for the 2007 YouTube Awards, depicts the evolution of the depiction of women in Western art over 500 years. Follow along with the list of artists and paintings. (This is also one of the most popular educational videos, with more than 92,000 views on Vimeo and more than 12 million views on YouTube.)

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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
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!

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Opening Ceremony
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

501069-OpeningCeremony2.jpg

Opening Ceremony

To this:

501069-OpeningCeremony3.jpg

Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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