Original image

The Weekend Links

Original image

"¢ What if all the news headline hype was really true? You know, that we were in real danger from killer bees, Y2K would really meltdown our world, and S Club 7 was the greatest band of our generation? (Ok, I'm not sure anyone ever claimed that last one as fact, BUT) ... see it all happen here, if you can resist riding your Segway long enough to watch.

"¢ From Taylor, a link about a guy who makes wooden mirrors. No, not wooden frames for glass mirrors ... mirrors made from wood. Yes. See it to believe it!

"¢ Did you know you can see into the future? That's right, you. And me. According to this article sent by my friend Kevin, the trick to most optical illusions comes in our ability to see about one-tenth of a second into the future. Or at least, guess what's there.

"¢ Give thanks, gentle sirs, to our own Jason English, who has provided a link this week to the Barber Shop Locator. As Jason candidly remarks, "The inability to locate a good barber shop is a huge problem for dudes." Fear no more. And help out your fellow man by adding the locale of any quality cutteries you know.

"¢ Reader Tony again brings us a great post from his blog—this time, 8 of the Most Unusual Postage Stamps. Tony admits that stamps may not be that interesting to some, but these stamps are sure to interest anyone! - Watch more free videos

"¢ Another amazing video from Michael at The Daily Tube (home of the best new videos on the internet).

"¢ As Georgia dries up, Iowa floods. See how a region prepares and copes with rising waters.

"¢ Now here comes a plethora of great links, as always, from Angie. Angie has also revolutionized the linking business for me by opening me up to the possibilities of Google Notebook. The Notebook is a simple application you download and add bookmarks to as you venture around the internet, and—here's the best part!—you can add people to share in what you've included in your notebook. If this sounds interesting to you, think about adding to your share list!

"¢ The internet has taught us that a great number of people have the time and resources to do many, many strange things. Exhibit A, this installment of the Will it Blend? series, featuring the Wii Remote.

"¢ Feel you have hidden artistic talents the likes of which the world has never seen? Do these gifts show themselves in the form of interior design? Try this design applet to create an interior space, and see if what comes out is any good. I'll admit mine left me deciding to leave the task to the professionals.

"¢ Many of you have probably seen this link, but for me it's never too soon for a repeat viewing. Cool video of wall-painted animation.


"¢ So I know we're in a housing crisis and all but ... is this really our only alternative?

"¢ If you're looking to bring the outdoors in, consider this, an artist's rendition of clouds indoors.

"¢ Just for fun, the pretty things of the week—a color flip book (use the edges of your browser window to grab and flip backwards and forwards to see colors mix).

"¢ Would you purchase a stress-relief vase for $48? Supposedly it captures all of your profanity-laden screaming noise if you, say, stub your toe, or open your cell phone bill.

"¢ From the Annals of Things You'd Wish You'd Thought Of (Or Did Think Of But Dismissed As Insane), "Your Name on Toast," a website where people pay to get something advertised on a virtual piece of toast. Eh? However, the money does go to charity (and they are raking it in!)

"¢ Play Music Catch, a free online game on Kongregate. Fun and simple, with great music. My first try score was 428634 ... can anyone beat me?

Check out this Google Notebook thing, and if that doesn't suit your fancy, you can just just keep emailing me links the old fashioned way ( Have a great weekend!

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

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