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Name that funky wedding tradition

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Think you're ready for love, marriage and the baby carriage? Take our globe-trotting mini-quiz and find out.

TRADITION: "_ _ _ _ _ _ _ the _ _ _ _ _"
While my name has become synonymous with the happy institution of marriage, it was borrowed from a distinctly unhappy one: American slavery. Denied the right to marry legally, slaves improvised ceremonies with whatever they happened to have on hand. My tradition came to symbolize a couple's leap of faith, and is still practiced in many African-American weddings today.

TRADITION: "_ _ _ _ _ _ _ I N G"
Nothing like a little hard labor to get a marriage off on the right foot. This Italian custom holds that neighbors must set up a log, sawhorse and double-handled saw for newlyweds, who halve the log together. The thicker the log and duller the saw the better; its arduousness symbolizes the equally mundane tasks a couple will have to endure together throughout their married life.

TRADITION: "P _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Y"
In Tibet, where for centuries a father and his sons could share the same wife (until the Chinese invaded in 1950 and put the kibosh on that kind of shenanigans), this custom was a matter of necessity. Thanks to prevalent female infanticide, there weren't a lot of women to go around, and because there wasn't a lot of arable land (read: food), P _ _ _ _ _ _ _ Y kept the birth rate -- and the starvation rate -- low.

TRADITION: "A _ _ _ _ _ _ _ WEDDING"
In Wales, a wedding procession would traditionally walk or ride to the church, with bride and her escort at the front gradually speeding up and away from the rest of the party as they approached. The whole party would then give chase, including the groom. In a twist on throwing the bouquet, whoever caught the bride would be sure to marry. Once the commotion of the chase had finished, the group would solemnly enter the church.

Answers after the jump ...

1. Jumping the broom
2. Sawhorsing
3. Polyandry
4. A walking wedding

If anyone's got weird wedding tradition knowledge, share!

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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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