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Punk be thy name

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It all started with a few bands and one little radical youth culture movement in the 1970s -- today, though, punk has proliferated everywhere, sprouting a seemingly endless number of sub-genres and -cultures, the differences between which, for most of us, are subtle at best. I can't run through every style of punk here (you could fill a book) but I want to touch on at least a few that I have known.

Gutter punk
Unlike other types of punk, gutters are known more for their lifestyle than for adhering to one or another subgenre of punk music. Rather, they're the punks you see living on the street, aggressively bumming for change (and getting a bit snippy when denied). Dreadlocks and mohwaks are popular, as are nose rings, "sleeves" of tattoos, and accessorizing with dogs is also common. (I see a lot of cardboard signs that say things like "Need $ for beer & dog food," for instance; always a sympathy-getter!) While often described as "voluntarily" (and sometimes "militantly") unemployed, many struggle with mental illness, just like regular homeless people.

Redneck punk
Growing up in Florida, I knew a few: strictly punk in terms of musical tastes (tending toward the hardest, fastest stuff) and hairstyle, their clothes were often a giveaway; a mohawked guy in greasy overalls? Definitely a redneck punk. (By the way, if you haven't seen my article on the origins of hairstyles, including the mohawk, check it out.) My friend Jordan was one: he worked at a pig farm during by day, sought out alcohol and mosh pits by night. (Needless to say, he a was a fragrant dude.)

Straight Edge
I knew straight edge kids in high school, but haven't met any in years. They're anarchy-loving punks who don't drink, smoke, do drugs or have casual sex (usually), and could sometimes be identified by black x's magic markered on the backs of their hands, or a by a frequently-made x-shaped crossing-of-the-arms gesture. Some were also vegetarians or vegans -- definitely an aberration amongst the red meat-loving punks that I knew. But where have all the straight-edgers gone? Let us know if you know one, or are one!

kathleen_hanna.jpgRiot Grrrls!
Proving that punk rock wasn't just for (and by) boys, the Riot Grrrl! movement started in the early 90s, and is often associated with feminist protest. Probably my favorite punk band, Bikini Kill, is also one of the original Riot Grrrl! acts, and helped pave the way for bands like L7, Hole and others. Often accused of being "anti-boy" by underground media of the time -- Bikini Kill frequently provoked male moshers by insisting they move to the side and make way for women near the front, for instance -- they instead asserted that they were "pro-girl."

What kind of punk are you?

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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]