Greg Veis, YouTube Hunter: 4 Crazy Japanese Game Shows

Like dogs and the novels of Sue Grafton, Japanese game shows are a hit in America. The way the contestants rub their butts against hot vehicular tailpipes, or how one guy agreed to be locked, naked, in an apartment for an indeterminate amount of time left only to subsist on prizes culled from magazine competitions... oh, it's all just so wacky! So, even though I'm more bored by these spectacles than I am schoolmarmish or unapologetically libertine (and after
reading a handful of opinion pieces on the topic, it seems those are the only two positions you can take in the MSM), I don't think I can rightly assume the title of YouTube Hunter until I offer a little of the Japanese game show red meat. (That's a little something I picked up from my mentor, Dicky Fox.) So feast, piglets. FEAST!

Here's a clip that's been making the rounds recently. The guy in the red on the far right is the obvious human star. [Editor's note: If you are a man with delicate sensibilities, or if you happen to work in an office, consider yourself warned -- we don't think these contestants will be having children any time soon.]

And, yes, more grossness, this time involving (a YouTube Hunter favorite!) the butt. [Editor's note: This one's definitely not safe for work!]

Below, the greatest rock-paper-scissors game I've ever watched. The slo-mo makes for particularly compelling viewing, especially since you can see how very angry this man has been made by the schoolyard game. I don't like to pass judgment about such things, but I think we can safely infer that his interior life must not be a pleasant one.

Look! A girl and a polar bear!

Lastly, this isn't a game show, but it's pretty sweet, and it's Japanese, and who among us doesn't love Ping Pong?

If you know of other, more deliciously fiendish Japanese game show clips, feel free to drop them in the comments section. (Except you, Spezzatura.)

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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