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Welcome, or something like that.

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Once upon a time, just about all doormats came in three varieties. There were plain mats, mats that said "welcome", and the fancy kind that had your family name on it. Now, you have ways to welcome people to your door that make a statement about who you are.

This mat is too clever by half. Especially if your name is really Matthew.

Perfect for a computer geek, this doormat says "There's No Place Like 127.0.0.1" which is, of course, home.

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To you, this may appear as a nice but boring pattern on a doormat. To a geek, it spells out "welcome" in binary language. It's an inside joke that will amuse you as you wait outside.

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More clever doormats, after the jump.

Another twist on the inside joke comes from the Navy. This doormat spells out a message in Navy flag code, but it doesn't say welcome. It says "Wipe your feet!" Which would actually be a more useful message, IF you understood it.

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If you are a geek, but your guests aren't, consider the old-fashioned "welcome" with a twist. Here's an electro-luminescent doormat complete with motion sensor that triggers the word to light up when someone is detected. They'll either smile or run screaming for the hills.

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To take that idea a bit further, how about an animated Space Invaders doormat that runs on AA batteries and uses flat panel LEDs? Too cool.

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The outdoorsman with this doormat makes it clear that he might not be home for a particular reason.

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You might make your visitors a little nervous with this one, or else they'll just laugh, like I did!

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I once labeled this "the best doormat ever". A perfect gift for some of my more, um, adventurous neighbors.

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This versatile doormat can be positioned to tell visitors how you feel on any particular day. Do you want them to "come in" or "go away"?

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A hostage situation printed on a doormat means you'll open the door to smiling guests.

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MFtoni.jpegAny of these mats can be combined with Toni, the talking mat. You record a message, slip the sensor foil under your doormat, and the message will be played when someone steps on it. Imagine your guests surprise when they hear "Stop! Put your hands in the air and turn around sloooowly!" or maybe "Look who's here! Hide the silverwear."

I haven't been able to make my mind up which I like best, but with two young children, I should just get one that says, "Wipe Your Feet!"

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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