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On Music: What's Opera Doc?

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Thanks for all the positive feedback to my first vlog post. You'll definitely be seeing more vids in the near future. Meanwhile, to answer those who've requested CD/mp3 recommendations: a good place to start is the complete recordings of all Bach's solo violin sonatas and partitas. I have several different recordings made by a number of violinists, but my very favorite is Gidon Kremer's most recent (he's recorded them more than once.) You can sample all the tracks on Amazon here.

Kremer's take is extremely dry/staccato, and largely influenced by a lot of the 20th century music he's premiered like Arvo Part and Alfred Schnittke (who we'll be looking at more closely in the coming weeks). If you prefer something more traditional, you might check out Itzhak Perlman's fine recording here, which I also happen to love.

seville1.jpgNow then, let's get down to much more serious business: a discussion of some of the classical music featured in Bugs Bunny cartoons! While many of the Looney Tunes cartoons from the 30s, 40s and 50s feature parodies of the classics, two stand out in my mind as the best, largely because they are sung-through from beginning to end, just like the operas they're sending up.

First we have Bugs Bunny in "The Rabbit of Seville." Here, legendary director Chuck Jones is playing on Rossini's famous opera, The Barber of Seville. The most memorable parts of the 7-minute romp through barbershop sets and backstage scenes are all set to Rossini's overture to the opera. Let's take a listen:

seville2.jpgWorthy of discussion only because of its trivia value, this is one of only a very small handful of Bugs Bunny cartoons where he is briefly seen with five fingers on his hand instead of the usual cartoon-character four. Here, maybe it's because he's playing piano on Elmer Fudd's baldy? (Any BB fans in the house know the other few cartoons?)

killwabbit.jpgIf it gets any better than that, it's only by looking at another Chuck Jones masterpiece, one considered by many cartoon freaks like me as the ultimate Bugs Bunny episode: "What's Opera Doc?" Let's take a listen:

Oh, and if you want the complete skinny on all the Wagner music used in this brilliant 7-minute masterpiece, check out this site here. Someone has actually taken the time to post it scene by scene.

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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]