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Genius video mashups

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"Mashup" is a Jamaican Creole term meaning to destroy. The world's first mashup-based artform was hip-hop music, which combined pieces of pre-existing music with an MC's rap. (Appropriately, rap grew out of a Jamaican dancehall technique called toasting, which involved talking or chanting over an R&B beat.) More recently, artists like Dangermouse created a new kind of musical mashup, often combining a hip-hop song with a song from another genre. (Danger's groundbreaking Grey Album conflated the Beatles' White Album with hip-hop impresario Jay-Z's Black Album, jump-starting what is proving to be an enduring trend.)

Inevitably, perhaps, the mashup phenomenon has gone A/V, and now video mashups are appearing on content-sharing sites like YouTube. Truly a democratic art form, anyone with a computer, editing software and lots of spare time on their hands (OK, so mostly rich suburban kids) can create their own. Since we here at the floss can relate to having a computer and (at least some) spare time, we present our picks for the top six most genius-y video mashups.

Title: My Body is a Cage
Combines: "My Body is a Cage" by peerless indie rockers The Arcade Fire and clips from Sergio Leone's Western masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in the West.
Verdict: Borderline profound.

Title: I Wanna Trek You Like An Animal
Combines: Nine Inch Nails' provocative "Closer" with clips from Star Trek.
Verdict: It'll make you think about the relationship between Kirk and Spock in a way you never have ... and never wanted to. Edited by man of mystery T. Jonesy, also responsible for "My Body is a Cage." Who are you, T. Jonesy??
Warning: F-word alert! Nine Inch Nails' frontman Trent Reznor wants to &^%@ you like an animal, and he's not afraid to say so.

Title: Velvet Welk
Combines: 2:23 seconds of the Velvet Underground's 17-minute psycho-pop freakout "Sister Ray" with clips from The Lawrence Welk Show.
Verdict: Trippy, young man!

More after the jump!

Title: Darth Vader, Practical Joker
Combines: A scene from Star Wars ... and that's it. Some very fancy time-remapping happening to get the lips to move right, but otherwise, just a little old-fashioned ingenuity.
Verdict: I'm not a big Star Wars guy, but I thought this was a riot.

Title: 8 1/2 Mile
Combines: Fellini's 8 1/2 and Eminem's 8 Mile, trailer-style.
Verdict: Low-culture + high-culture = pop culture!

Title: A Hard Day's Night of the Living Dead
Combines: Zombie remake Dawn of the Dead and the classic Beatles film.
Verdict: Groovy and gory.

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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:


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]