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5 Unusual Shoe Partnerships

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I'm sorry; I just can't relate to a person who only has four pairs of shoes. I have a fairly serious shoe addiction and I don't care who knows it. In fact, after reading Jason's story, I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to add a pair of Air McFlys to my collection. When they come out, that is. Jason is a regular blogger here on the floss, which is pretty appropriate since he's majoring in journalism at Northwestern. -Stacy Conradt

5 Unusual Shoe Partnerships
by Jason Plautz

I've never been big on shoes; I only have four pairs and I need to see at least two holes before I'll consider replacing them (the same unfortunate strategy I employ with pants). Still, that doesn't mean I can't appreciate a cool shoe when I see one. Here are five cool shoes and the unusual corporate partnerships that created them.


kool aid shoe.jpgUsually you're trying to get the odor out of your shoe, but in a new sneaker released by Reebok this month, the scent is the appeal. Formed in a partnership with Kool-Aid, the low-tops will release the fruity scents of the classic powdered drink from a sock liner. The initial flavors are grape, cherry and strawberry, but should the venture prove successful (and really, why wouldn't it?), the line will expand to the citrus flavors of lemonade, orange and lemon-lime. According to a press release, the soles of the shoes will also depict the Kool-Aid man, just in case the whole venture didn't sound strange enough already.

The Simpsons

Marketing for The Simpsons Movie was huge (remember the Kwik-E-Mart promotion?), so it only makes sense that it would spread to footwear. The film's producers teamed up with Vans to come up with 14 shoe designs dedicated to America's favorite yellow family. They got fourteen underground L.A. artists to design the kicks, including graffiti taggers and one of the set designers from Pee Wee's Playhouse, so the shoes actually looked nice. Vans only produced 100 of each design, so don't worry if you didn't see one in your local Foot Locker.


adidas run dmc.jpgRap group RUN DMC had long made public their adoration for Adidas sneakers, most notably through their hit "My Adidas." So it only made sense that they would strike a deal with Adidas. The mega-deal led to the creation of the Adidas Superstar, which was recently re-released for the 35th anniversary. The partnership was so big, it was actually closed on stage at Madison Square Garden during a sold out concert. Reverend Run told it like this:

I told everyone in the crowd, 'Put your sneakers in the air!' They turned the house lights up. When I looked out, the entire Garden was holding up one Adidas.

"I turned to the rep and he said, 'You're getting your own sneaker deal!' It was for $1 million per year and I closed it on that stage.

The hip-hop world has been linked with sneakers ever since, including a 2003 partnership between Reebok and Jay-Z for the "S. Carter Collection by Rbk."


Apple and Nike teamed up to release the runner's dream tool- a sensor that links to an iPod to measure how far and fast you've run. The sensor in the Nike+ shoe will wirelessly send updates on your run to an iPod nano, which will then tell you (yes, as in speak to you) how far you've gone and how fast you're going. The data can also be uploaded to, where you can track your running patterns and create a training regimen.

Marty McFly?

mcfly.jpgEver since Back to the Future Part II came out, everybody has wanted the super cool Nikes that Marty McFly wore in the future. They laced up by themselves, they lit up and, let's face it, they just looked awesome. A petition has been floating around the Internet for years to get Nike to release the McFly shoe. Rumor has it Nike listened to the petition and came up with these prototypes of the sneaker. There's no official word on their release, though.

Say it with me: "Sidewalks? Where we're going, we don't need sidewalks."

Check out the rest of our College Weekend festivities.

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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]