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The Weekend Links

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"¢ It's Super Bowl time! Here are some lamentably familiar personalities to avoid when sending invites for your party. And as we are reminded in this vintage piece from Page 2, the Super Bowl can in fact kill you.

"¢ The candidates aren't talking a great deal about education, but bow howdy here's an example of why they should. (Courtesy of 'Conventional Stupidity')

"¢ There may be an Arrested Development movie in the works. (The Jason Bateman show, not the people who brought you "Tennessee.")

"¢ The Truth may be Out There, but so far we haven't been able to find it concerning these science mysteries. (Thanks, Freezair)

"¢ We've posted about double dipping this week, but here's another take on the debate from the Wall Street Journal (Thanks to Jason's lovely wife Ellen)

"¢ I don't know about you guys, but I for one have always wanted to rule my own country "“ preferably on a nice, warm island somewhere. Here are some people who've done it, and the histories of their oft questionable dominions. (Thanks to Nanette from Cape Town)

"¢ In their desire to make crayon colors increasingly nuanced, Crayola has introduced shades like "inch worm" and "antique brass." I for one don't know how many times I've been frustrated beyond belief that the color "magic mint" was retired (mint magic? really?). See the evolution of the Crayola color wheel here.

"¢ Ever wondered how spy gadgets work?

"¢ Haute couture is often so art-driven that its practicality is sometimes lost. Judge for yourself here in a showcase of world (or interplanetary) fashions. Also ... is that third model Tom Brady?

"¢ Beer. It has its own bowl, it has its own hat, and it has more flavors and uses than one can hardly dare imagine. (Thanks as always to Jan from ATL, who keeps me in business)

"¢ Obligatory mention of the "I Read Mental Floss" Facebook group.

"¢ Whoa whoa whoa ... (1) there was a Gladiators 2000 (which apparently I missed) and (2) Ryan Seacrest was involved? (via TVTattle)

"¢ There's something about this video Lisa sent in that is haunting and poignant (be sure to turn up your speakers!) even though it involves a chocolate easter bunny.

"¢ Everyone enjoys good satire, and Jane from New Jersey has reminded us of our favorite de-motivational site, Their BitterSweets are perfect for anyone who thinks being happy is overrated.

"¢ What does your phone number spell? This site sent in by Breann from IL might help you figure out a snazzy way for people to remember your digits. Part of a number I tried came out "Me-4-Me," which sounds like a vanity plate. Moreover, I should be wary that T.O. might be looking to trademark it.

"¢ And in the 'reader photo of the week' department, let's celebrate the work of parkesmj, who submitted these photos from New Zealand:



If you're a Flickr user, simply tag your pics you'd like us to consider "flossphotos." And stay tuned for Ransom's next project with his freelance photographer army.

"¢ And please keep sending me links! To make it worth your while, the 1st and 20th people to send me something flossy win free mental_floss t-shirts. (

[Last Weekend's Links]

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]