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Blog of Glory

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Was it a sign that while flossing last night, my gums started bleeding? No but really: as of tomorrow I'll be handing in my mental_floss jersey, perhaps to resurface at some point, in some avuncular (why not?!) capacity. So to celebrate the new era, here's a pensive shot of my parents' husky (who is looking for a home if you live in MI--and preferably on a lot of land) & here are some random "final blog entries" still glimmering somewhere out there:

Wednesday, May 9th

Final blog post...recap time.

Wow, this semester has flown by fast! I've had fun maintaining this blog and exploring different aspects of internet marketing... I hope you've enjoyed reading and following this blog (all 4ish readers of you...) over the course of the semester - hopefully you found something interesting along the way.

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9/27/07

Since I'm leaving, I would like to give out "awards" to those who actually have a place with this userpage:

Nicest Member: xdude81: He and I wouldn't get in fights and he actually was a nice guy all the time.

Runner-Ups: -SpikyBlueHero-, SonicNinja (I forgot the numbers), sbfullmer, sho (man, what comes after that? 90?)

Favorite newbie: Okelion (is that how you spell it? Or is it Oeklion? Me forget): He isn't exactly new anymore...but when he was new...I thought I did help him out a lot

Coolest member: DoctorEggman: He seemed cool. And he had a couple of funny youtube videos. Too bad he didn't really care about my blogs...in fact, you get "Coolest member who didn't care about me."

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And then there's Sarah Hepola's explanation of why she shut down her blog...And the evidence that she's back.

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There was also some concern back in '06 that Dave Winer of scriptingnews.com was going to quit blogging, but he's still around; though, he does have what seems to me the best farewell speech:

"Blogging doesn't need me anymore. It'll go on just as well, maybe even better, with some new space opened up for some new things. But more important to me, there will be new space for me."d

Touché! Thanks everyone...I'm going to go join my foster cat (pictured) now--he's throwing me a last hurrah, which will likely be intense. Feel free to post sweet nothings on my still-myspace-after-all-these-years profile.

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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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