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The Weekend Links

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"¢ If you are one of those savvy TV viewers who gives a knowing nod when, say, Britney Spears or Cher suddenly shows up on your favorite network show ("sweeps!" says I), some of these ridiculous celebrity cameos will probably look familiar.

"¢ The ultimate show of fandom—how about a person who makes the entire Godfather script into a piece of art? I tried to do the same thing with Drillbit Taylor, and have been banned for life from the LA art scene.

"¢ Sure, talk of third ears and buttocks injections are all fun and games when you're talking about jocks ... but what about geeks? Slate.com reports on the rampant use of "enhancement" drugs by a faction of the populous you may not expect.

"¢ Sometimes it's just best to walk away: a story on why, forty years ago, LBJ chose to bow out.

"¢ Reader Lance directs our attention to WiseGeek.com, host to a sundry of interesting queries. Sometimes they compile information, but the best is when they go searching for it, such as how to make the most of an all-you-can-eat buffet...

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...and which pro sports teams fail to own their own domain names.

"¢ A story on the strange power of slow-mo that offers up clips and history on the process that makes the mundane become so gloriously dramatic.

"¢ It was a big deal at Emory when they added a Visual Arts minor, but what if you could major in a person? Say ... Joe Pa? ESPN Page 2's dubious sources have uncovered a test from Penn State for those taking the Joe Paterno class.

"¢ After being saturated by news of the pregnant man, here's a fresh look at the matter: a blogger who takes on a labor of love—24 hours of male pregnancy.

"¢ This oldie but goodie, just because.

"¢ An in-depth look at some of the theories on how Deja Vu works. I experience it myself from time to time ... just a glitch in the Matrix, right?

"¢ Ah, now this is what I log on for. Radar counts down 10 personalities we love to hate on the internet. Would you rather be loved and forgotten, or hatefully remembered? Most of these people would probably choose the latter (but not Tony K, I love that guy). [via GorillaMask.net]

"¢ Yikes—some truly terrifying comic book covers from the 1950s. Would these be allowed today? Imagine the Congressional hearings ... (via blogs.usatoday.com/popcandy)

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"¢ More good stuff from WebUrbanist: 8 Remarkable Palace, Fort and Castle Hotels: Living it Up in (Ancient) Luxury Around the World. Can we convince this guy to guest blog for us?

"¢ Great list of pet peeves from McSweeney's. Some are funny, but you may find some to be very familiar and true (Thanks Stuart!)

"¢ If you haven't heard about the Chinese Democracy album and Dr Pepper's promise of one beverage for every American if it's ever released, educate yourself on the latest happenings. (Much thanks as always to Kevin).

"¢ As Jerry Seinfeld says, "There's no such thing as dry cleaning. There's no way of cleaning with dry. If I gave you a filthy shirt and said, 'I want this immaculate. And no liquids!' what are you going to do? Shake it? Tap it? Blow on it? Give me a break. You almost can't get something dirty with dry, let alone cleaning it." Here's a clip on the science of dry cleaning and how it can be environmentally friendly ... but yeah, using liquids.

OK guys, I go into the link trenches every week to suffer out the link mines (and make my friends do the same), so help a comrade out! Send in your links and internet oddities to FlossyLinks@gmail.com. Helping me, helping you.

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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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]

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