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Those hard-to-resist-Svengalis: Stage Mothers

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In the midst of all the Kid Nation hype & the ongoing fascination w/Lynne Spears, Dina Lohan, it seems that the presence of stage mothers is stronger than ever. Here's a look at few stage moms from yesteryear.

THE MOTHER: Rose Thompson Hovick, aka Madame Rose, Mama Rose
THE CHILDREN: June Havoc and Gypsy Rose Lee
FAMOUSLY: pimped 2 year-old June into a song-and-dance act, dressed Gypsy as a back-up dancing boy, taught her daughters to shoplift, lied to them about their ages, attempted to kill June's love interests, ran a lesbian boarding house in her later years
TRIVIA: Mama Rose's last words to Gypsy were: "Wherever you go"¦I'll be right there. When you get your own private kick in the a--, just remember: it's a present from me to you." The last line of Gypsy (1962), adapted from the memoir: "Only it was you and me wearing exactly the same gown. It was an ad for Minsky. And the headline said, 'Madame Rose, and her daughter Gypsy.'"

images12.jpgTHE MOTHER: Wanda Holloway
THE CHILD: Shanna Harper
FAMOUSLY: offered a hit-man $2,500 to take out the mother of her daughter's cheerleading rival; she used diamond earrings as a down payment
TRIVIA: Wanda was an organist for her Channelview, TX church; she had previously been reprimanded for handing out rulers urging students to vote for her daughter; two days before Wanda was indicted, the daughter-rivals had to stand next to each other in an honor society ceremony (both had "H" last names)

THE MOTHER: Teri Shields
THE CHILD: Brooke Shields
FAMOUSLY: announced to reporters in the middle of interviewing her daughter that Brooke had to "tinkle"; allowed Brooke to model nude at 10 years-old for Garry Gross; Teri on Brooke: "Well I think any parent who was given the opportunity would do the same thing... I think Brooke is sort of like a work of art. And like any beautiful painting, I think the world should enjoy Brooke and view her."
TRIVIA: Brooke fired Teri as her manager in 1995; her marriage to Andre Agassi was annulled so she was allowed to marry Chris Henchy in a Catholic church

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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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Opening Ceremony
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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:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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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]

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