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The Year 1975 (As Predicted By 1962)

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We here at Mental_floss love to uncover visions of the future -- especially when that "future" is already long past. (Consider, for example, this post about the year 2000, as predicted by Europeans at the turn of the 20th century.) Derrick Bostrom recently uncovered a book of tech and lifestyle predictions for the year 1975, made all the more absurd by the fact that it was published only 13 years prior. What follows are some pictures and captions from 1975: And the Changes to Come by Arnold B. Barach. (You can see the whole collection on Bostrom's site.)

The Future of Television

Two Variations of Future Television Sets. On the left, a triple-purpose unit for the housewife, enabling her to watch her children at play or identify visitors at the door or watch her favorite color television program. On the right, a salesman's video-audio tape player, housed in an attaché case, and designed to project visual sales presentations as well as to function as a dictation unit.

Can you imagine one of these guys whipping out one of these babies during a sales call?

The "Hi-Fi Sphere"
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Hi-Fi Sphere. High-fidelity sets do not have to be square, and they do not have to be long. This look into tomorrow is an effort to blend the feeling of a musical instrument with modern electronics. Engineers have long maintained that a sphere is the ideal source of sound reproduction. Note these features: The cone speakers are retractable, can have a span of six feet between them, and can be pitched in any direction the best stereophonic effect. In the base of the sphere is a woofer speaker, facing inward. When not in use, the three-foot aluminum globe can be completely closed present a decorative sphere.

Forget the decorative sphere, where can I get one of those awesome lamps? (And by the way, which musical instruments look anything like this bizarre contraption?)

The Portable Oven
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Oven in the Round. Portable oven, by designer Greta Magnusson Grossman, is intended for broiling and baking at the table, on the patio, or in the kitchen. Round half-spheres can be moved in either direction to open or close the oven. Cooking would be by fast radiant heat. Devices such as this point the way to new informality in the home.

This looks suspiciously like the hi-fi sphere to me ...

Toaster Bacon
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Bacon in a Toaster. Bacon would be prefried, then hermetically sealed in this design for a future aluminum package. One way to heat it for eating would be to drop it in the toaster; another, put in oven or broiler. A major advantage is the elimination of utensils for cooking. Package is opened by turning back the edges. Leftovers are easily preserved by refolding the pouch.

I remember a commercial some years ago for a small novelty pizza you could cook in your toaster. The commercial's tagline was "who wants pizza from their toaster?" (I always thought that was an excellent question.)

Ultrasonic Dishwasher
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Wash Dishes Ultrasonically. High frequency sound waves energize the water to wash the dishes in this ultrasonic dishwasher. A device called a transducer produces the high frequency sound waves (about 20,000 cycles per minute), pitched so high they cannot be heard by the human ear. Ultrasonic washers are more effective than existing types; they scour without scratching, remove baked-on matter readily, and wash much faster than any type now in general use. The same principle of ultrasonic cleaning will be applied to washing machines within another decade.

Flickr commenter Aaron pointed out: "20,000 cycles per minute, huh? Far from being inaudible, that's just E above middle C (333 Hz). But even 20,000 Hz would be audible to some people, particularly children."

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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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