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Halloween Costumes on Parade!

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Happy Halloween and thanks to everyone who sent in their fantastic costume ideas for our parade! Our grand marshal is Molly, who tragically didn't get any snaps of the Best Get-Up of All Time but submitted it anyway:

Once, my friend and I wore green shorts and tank tops, covered ourselves in tin foil, painted our faces green, fixed our hair all nasty and then put masking tape labels that said march 1999 on the foil "“ we were leftovers! We won a contest, too"¦

Molly, you just won another one; send us your contact info.

Below are three other written ideas we love, interspersed with some great photos, including two women's very different takes on red capes and one awesome jack-o'-lantern.

You do have to be around people you know for this one, and do a whole bunch of pre-work (i.e., losing a whole bunch of weight). I had lost 90 pounds and for the Halloween party that year, decided to paint myself black from head to toe. Hair, face, teeth, hands (including fingernails, arms, legs, everything"¦. the whites of my eyes were the only non black body parts on me). I went to the party as "A SHADOW OF MY FORMER SELF." Fun and easy"¦.


Some medical student friends of mine once came to a Halloween party dressed fairly strange. One had camo pants and combat boots with a plain white t-shirt. The other had jeans, sneakers, a camo jacket and camo boonie hat. We couldn't figure out what they were, and everyone let out a huge groan when they said "We're an upper and lower GI."

download-5.jpegI have to say that my all-time favorite costume was when I went as "Inspector #8" to a party thrown by some friends a few years ago. I don't think there are any photos (sadly!) but the costume was complete down to the ill-fitting pants, bad shirt, glasses, pocket protector (full of gadgets), magnifying glass and rubber stamp. I inspected pretty much anything I wanted to and left my mark if it was approved. My second favorite costume was when I teamed up with a friend and we were a clothesline. We had to stand about 8' apart the entire evening, which was bad for when one needed to use the facilities, but good because it kept us talking to new people.


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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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Opening Ceremony
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:


Opening Ceremony

To this:


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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]