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Pictures From Our Readers: Their "Pants"

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Last week, we asked our ever-growing army of reader-photographers to send us pictures of their "pants," which was our in-jokey way of referring to some funny, absurd or incongruous thing in their neighborhood. (Why "pants"? This post explains.) So this past weekend, flossers from all over the country scoured their 'hoods, cameras in hand, and now the frequently-hilarious fruits of their labor are in! So without further ado ... these are your pants. Many of the submissions fell into a few categories, which is how I'll organize them here.

Pictures Relating to Psychics and Religion

Reader Ellen spotted this graffiti on the outside of a bar in Towson, Maryland. I'll be up all night trying to figure out what it means.

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Reader Kate thought there was something incongruous about this elaborate Nativity scene on a psychic's front lawn. (I think Ellen's picture makes it obvious, Kate: this psychic was a Catholic until she developed psychic abilities.)

Creepy Visual Jokes on the Side of the Road
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Beth Layton writes: "With just some simple white boards, someone turned two boring holes in a hill into the feeling you're being watched. This adds a little something to the desolate drive to my nearest gambling town, Wendover Nevada, two hours from my home."

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Reader Daniel snapped this photo from his car. "Apparently someone wanted to accommodate travelers along this stretch of rural road in upstate NY. Bless their hearts for thinking of others. This discarded toilet has been there for well over a year, and some kind soul added the sign, should anyone need to 'rest.'" (Great find, Daniel! Though it would be a little more fun if you'd caught someone taking advantage of this "rest area.")

Signs That Don't Make Sense
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Left: "I Fought the Claw," found by Juliet in Seattle. Right: "We Need A Hovercraft," bafflingly posted in front of Elizabeth McDowell's workplace in Charlotte, NC.

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Found by Njdu while visiting his family in Utah. (I called the number, it appears to be some kind of phone sex hotline? If so, this has got to be the world's weirdest ad for porn.)

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... and speaking of porn, this photo was snapped by a reader (who prefers to remain anonymous) who says this sign is "somewhere along Interstate 10," though the gas station it advertises is long-gone. Too bad -- looks like that place had everything!

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Chicken Soup for the Sole: Swapna Gupta found this sign in Hoover, Alabama, next door to a church. Seems like the shoe-repair guy is trying to steal some of the church's business!

Continue reading...

Cars That Make A Statement
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Reader Pete sent this in, and writes "One man's philosophy, carefully stenciled onto his truck. Near New Hope, PA."

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It's log! From Hamilton Carter in Boulder, CO.

The Topiary That Should Not Be
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... just in case they couldn't read it on your mailbox. Found in San Diego by Lebetho.

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The gigantic, buttocks-shaped topiary of Van Nuys, CA. (Thanks, Joe Maz!)

Really Bad Art
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This painting of Tom Selleck hangs in the Midwest Museum of Art in Elkhart, Indiana. Thanks to Jennifer for sending it in. (By the way, Jennifer, I'm dying to know: what does the museum call this masterpiece?)

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Keri Woodward says this scrap metal bird is known as St. Paul, MN's "Stop Chicken" (although it looks more like a seagull to me). Maybe the Stop Chicken is saying "Stop making horrible public art!"

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This happy-go-lucky cousin to Easter Island's menacing heads is the work of Wichita-based chainsaw sculptor Gino Salerno. (Thanks to Danielle Kelly for sending it in.)

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"This most decidedly ugly fish is the pride and joy of the Muskie Bar and Grill in my hometown of Ventura, IA. It is about the length of a full-size pickup truck, and the tackiness is completed by the "No Trespassing" sign nailed to its back fin. The giant muskie sits right on the busiest road in town, which runs along the lake shore. I consider this tree-turned-muskie my "pants" because every time I drive past it I say out loud, "there's that ugly fish!" (Thanks, Mindy!)

Graffiti

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Andre writes: "I'm a student at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Ga, and I came across this (what i assume to be commissioned...it was too intricate to not be) graffiti on a wall in a back alley we call 'sketchy alley.'" (Cool pic, Andre! But what were you doing hanging out in a sketchy alley?)

Continue reading...

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"This is spray painted by my home in Layton, UT, on a small retainer wall next to the road. Behind 'Live and Let Live,' it says 'Live in the now.' I think both are good advice for anyone. It makes me happy!" Thanks, Zerra! (By the way, it occurs to me we've got a lot of flossers in Utah! Must be an intellectual state.)

Unusual Houses
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Reader Lorena lives near this colorful house in Eugene, Oregon. Damn hippies!

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This house outside Philadelphia was voted Most Likely to Give Children Nightmares by the local neighborhood association. (We especially love the happy plastic deer in the foreground. Shudder ...) Thanks, Pete!

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This worn-out mailbox comes with instructions, so you'll be sure to get your mail no matter how stupid your mailperson is. Pic courtesy Adam in Echo Park, LA, CA. (We love you too, Adam!)

The Saddest Christmas Tree (Both of Them)
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Kellie writes: "Every year my neighbor trims her Christmas tree and then takes one of the branches she cut off and puts it in my yard - with one decoration. Therefore, I have my very own Charlie Brown Christmas tree every year. I would take it down as it's almost February, but when she plants it in my yard, she "waters" it ... freezing it to the bottom of the snow bank. I should also note that I live in Duluth, MN, where it's winter 9 months out of the year, so by the time I am able to take it down, it'll be time for her to put a new one up!"

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Kath Oltsher in Edmonton, Alberta "found this tree caught by security bars against the window in an underused building. There it was, off an alley, to the side of an empty lot, in an area that could be called the "inner city," where the poorest live and where many of the people that used to be in mental health facilities were "mainstreamed into society" ended up. Who hung the Christmas balls, tinsel and ribbon on it?" (Some poor, mentally ill Charlie Brown, we'd imagine.)

Unsettling Juxtapositions in the Workplace

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Adrienne writes: "I work as an R&D supervisor in a cosmetics manufacturing plant in southwest Oklahoma. The factory is your typical industrial warehouse-type operation. In an effort to boost employee morale, upper management decided to put out a box where we could place suggestions for fun and great ideas like "have holidays off with pay," or "how about a raise, that sounds fun." Occasionally there are a few good ideas, but the suggestions, in general, are sarcastic and a little depressing. I included pictures of the Fun Suggestion Box as well as the factory. It is sadly out of place."

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From reader Karen: "I work in the Chattanooga State Office Building (in TN), which is a very ugly government building. We have a fountain in the side lobby. Sometime last year, a lone rubber ducky appeared in that fountain. Then friends started to show up. Soon we had a whole flock of ducks. (Plus one blue whale.) Every so often, some will go missing, and a ransom note will get posted to the wall, usually demanding chocolate or coffee. We all like the ducks a lot."

And Finally ... Unclassifiable, from Liza!
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"Though perhaps not as random as the example in the assignment, these
bank time/temp signs are the figurative "pants" I pass on my daily
walk to work in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. (2 views, the closer one
has one of the signs partially blocked by a street sign.) What's so
pants-y about them? 2 things:

(1) Their sheer redundancy. There's nowhere that you can stand to
see the leftmost/furthest sign that you can't also see the middle one.
Moreover, the two perpendicular signs on the corner (the middle and
right ones) could easily be replaced by a single sign extending
diagonally from the corner of the building. And yes, they all display
the same logo and time/temp on both sides, for a total of six displays
on a single building.

(2) Though you can't tell from the photos, all of the signs always
read exactly 10 degrees F higher than the actual outside temperature,
as confirmed by the other two bank time/temp signs within a two-block
radius and the weather.com report. They've read high since installed
last summer. It's beyond me how a professional sign installing
company can post 6--six! displays and not calibrate the thermometer (I
suspect a central feed, as all always read the same time/temp). At
least the time is correct."

Thanks to everyone who participated (and apologies if your photos weren't included in this challenge -- we'll getcha next time!) Anyone interested in participating in our next photo challenge, leave a comment here and let me know!

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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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