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Forbidden Friday: Sloth

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What better way to end your workweek than with a dose of complete and utter slackitude? That is, if you're even still at the office. Yeah, we saw you trying to sneak out early, but we know you were just trying to emulate these guys:

Famous Figures Who Never Held Day Jobs

450px-Socrates_Louvre.jpgSocrates: Aside from a possible brief stint as a sculptor, Socrates seems to have spent most of his hours ambling around the agora -- the gymnasium where Athenians exercised, which was also Athens' central public meeting place and marketplace. When he wasn't milling about the town, the old philosopher could be spotted going to parties and loitering in taverns where citizens and foreign guests gathered. All this isn't to say the poor guy enjoyed the lush life. Socrates lived and dressed simply, wore neither shoes nor shirt, and owned only one coat. He also ate poorly, lived hand to mouth, relied heavily on the charity of his friends, and refused gifts when they were offered. Like, for instance, the time his friend Charmides offered to give him slaves who could have made money to support him. He also refused to accept presents from powerful leaders of Greek cities, not wanting to ever compromise his integrity. When the great philosopher was put on trial for allegedly teaching sacrilege, Socrates tweaked the Athenian assembly by suggesting that far from being a criminal, he deserved free room and board at their expense. Unamused, they condemned him to death.

Two more three-toed edentates after the jump.

Oscar Wilde: "Cultivated leisure is the aim of man," Oscar Wilde once famously said, and he certainly lived his life by that dictum. Wilde was brilliant, winning a gold medal in Classics at Trinity College in Dublin in 1874 before earning a scholarship to Oxford. When his father died, however, Wilde left the family's finances to his older brother Henry, and worked only once in his life, a brief two-year stint as the editor of a women's magazine called The Woman's World, from 1887 to 1889. Wilde spent the rest of his time writing, giving lectures on aesthetics, coining pithy epigrams, and generally being a wit. Sadly, Wilde was forced to do hard labor near the end of his life after he was foud guilty or immoral conduct for homosexual activities. A broken man, he died shortly thereafter, in 1900.
Buddha: Buddha, like Socrates, was a full-time thinker whose schedule of meditation, contemplation, and conversation didn't leave any time for work. Born around 563 BCE, Siddhartha, as he was called when young, was the son of a king who ruled a small kingdom in the northern floodplains of the Ganges River in India. The young prince led a life of leisure in his early years before growing disgusted with the materialism of the royal palace. Instead of sticking around, Siddhartha wandered off into nature at the age of 28, and after seven years of travel, meditation, and conversation with Hindu mystics, he attained enlightenment under a Bodhi tree. Receiving visitors and teaching students from under the tree, he spread the message of moderation and separation from material want that became Buddhism -- and never did get a job.

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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
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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
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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]

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