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Get Your iPhone Fix

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With the launch of Apple's iPhone just one day away (okay: 1 day, 8 hours, 48 minutes, 10 seconds according to, global phone-hysteria levels are at an all-time high. We're here to guide you through the mountains of coverage with pre-screened links to the most interesting bits.

Apple's press embargo on iPhone reviews was lifted Tuesday at 6pm, leading to a web-wide case of iPhone Mania: as reviews from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Newsweek hit the web, millions of iPhone fans clicked madly from one article to the next. Don't have the time (or energy) to read all four pieces of phone-related journalism? Check out Gizmodo's iPhone Review Matrix, which condenses the reviews into a handy chart.

For the past week, Apple has steadily posted additional iPhone information, apparently in an attempt to keep the iPhone faithful supplied with new videos and web content every day. Some highlights: the iPhone Guided Tour is a 24-minute video showing many of the phone's features, including tantalizing close-ups of a real live iPhone (gasp!) operated by a spokesmodel in a strangely Steve Jobs-esque outfit. If that's not enough geekery for you, check out the iPhone Activation & Sync video whose most exciting fact is: you don't activate the phone at the store -- instead you take it home, plug it into your Mac or PC, and activate it through iTunes (and yes, you can even transfer an existing phone number to AT&T service from within iTunes). But wait, there's more! If you still haven't downloaded enough iPhone videos, turn your gaze to the iPhone keyboard demo, which shows you how to go from hunt-and-peck to two-thumb-typing-ninja in just a few short days.

Because I know this still isn't enough for some of us, I'll throw in links to Get Ready for iPhone, a guide to what you should be doing now in order to get up and running Friday night. You may have heard about Greg Packer, the professional line-sitter who's first in line for an iPhone at the Fifth Avenue Apple Store (he has a blog about it), but perhaps more interesting is David Clayman, who is documenting the experience of being second in line. Madness or awesomeness? You decide.

Finally, I leave you with the iPhone rate plans. The short version: sixty bucks a month minimum, two-year contract required. Start checking under the couch cushions while you browse the AT&T Coverage Viewer and find a store where you can spend your Friday waiting for the phone. And if you're not getting a real iPhone, try making your own out of paper.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]