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Droppin' Science: 5 Rap Songs That Don't Make the Grade

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Googling "bad rap lyrics" returns a flood of flawed rhymes that could take all day to comb through (my favorite was penned by Mase: "Young, black and famous / with money hangin' out the anus"), but one thing I realized while reading, that I hadn't quite gleaned from years of listening, was how often rappers use basic math and science concepts in their lyrics. Perhaps reflecting the current state of American math and science aptitude, rappers don't always get it right -- and sometimes get it very wrong. Here are six of our favorite flubs (thanks to Henry Adaso, among other sources).

1. Math: Redman, "Five Boroughs"

My paragraph alone is worth five mics (uh-huh)
A twelve song LP, that's thirty-six mics (uh-huh)

Unless Redman uses less than a paragraph of lyrics per song, I think he's a few mics short of an LP.

2. Physics: Canibus, "Funkmaster Flex Freestyle"

I can double my density from three-sixty degrees to seven-twenty instantly.

While 360 times 2 is indeed 720, Canibus needs a little help when it comes to measuring units of density. Rather than "degrees," acceptable terms would've included kilograms per cubic metre (kg/m³), grams per millilitre (g/mL) or pounds per U.S. bushel (lb/bu) -- for all you farmers out there.

3. Chronology: Master P, "Do You Know"

If you don't bring back my m****f*****n money
or my m***f****n dope
you can forget about Christmas n***a
cause you ain't gon' even see New Years.

Hey, now that you've mastered P, maybe it's time to master G -- the Gregorian calendar. 'Cause I'm pretty sure Christmas comes before New Years.

4. Astronomy / Astrology: Kanye West, "Gettin' It In"

Don't try to treat me like I AIN'T FAMOUS
My apologies, are you into astrology Cause I'm,
I'm tryin to make it to Uranus.

Kudos to Kanye on this point: though not as widely referenced as some of the larger, closer planets, the position of Uranus in the Heavans actually is used in modern astrology. However, its influence is considered secondary to Saturn's -- they co-rule Aquarius -- and if you know anything about Aquarians (I'm one of 'em), you'd know that members of this water sign are relatively passive and chilled-out; the last thing they'd do is try to rile Kanye, or for that matter let him into their, you know, Uranus. (Nice try, West.)

5. Physics: Lil' Fame, "Half and Half"

First family will gradually lift that a*s up like gravity.

Rather than a snarky comeback, I've prepared a rhyme in response:

Yo Fame, what goes up must come down
Not the otha way 'round
Getcha facts straight son
Floss online, 'cuz books weigh a ton.

BONUS MATH PROBLEM: Foxy Brown, "Affirmative Action"

Thirty-two grams raw, chop it in half, get sixteen
Double it times three, we got forty-eight, which mean
A whole lot of cream, divide the profit by four,
Subtract it by eight, we back to sixteen.

Actually, there's nothing wrong with the math here -- in fact, what Foxy Brown has constructed for us is a little word problem. For big bonus points (and major street cred), who can tell us what Foxy's gross coke income is, using grams rather than dollars as a unit of measure? (I'll swing by later and post the correct answer in the comments.)

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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]