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The Weekend Links

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Film buffs may be well acquainted with the Spaghetti Western, but how much do you know about making Western Spaghetti? This video from our friends at the Daily Tube uses stop motion animation to make a meal from inedible household objects that still manage to make my tummy rumble!

Flossy reader Kay sends us a link to the 365 Days Project, a website that "features music from some of the strangest and obscure artists out there. Some of my favorites are songs from a smurf album and an Art Linkletter sex ed. record!" I looked up my birthday and found a psychedelic mix of voices and sounds from 1968 turned into song ... the original mash-up perhaps?

From Rose, who got this link from her grandfather (I don't know why I think that's cool, but I do) - pictures of people arranged in a field to make a human Statue of Liberty, and other American symbols that were originally going to be used for propaganda posters.

Also from Rose, a website of staggering, but fascinating, world statistics. Or for some world stats of a lighter note, (often strange) favorite pizza toppings from around the world. (Thanks Jill!)

Larry has sent in two selections from his blog, one leading to Ultimate Geek Art and Graffitti, and the other one highlighting the smallest house in the world ... which really reminds me of my apartment, no joke.

We're halfway through baseball season now that the All-Star Game and break is over (and what a game that was), and so on behalf of all fellow baseball fans, the story behind "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," from Tony.

If you're stuck inside this weekend for any reason, kill some time reading crazy conspiracy theories involving the moon landing, just in time for the Apollo 11 anniversary. (Thanks Paul!)

You Flossers might find some interest from this diagram which illustrates linguistic origins. And if you're feeling pretty confident in your knowledge of the origins of words themselves, check out this etymology quiz, where I scored pretty poorly, I'll admit.

The eyes may or may not be the window to the soul, but they CAN reveal what a person is really thinking (or, in this case, conjuring up). This site tells you how, in most cases, you can tell if the person you're conversing with is lying to you by studying their eye movement.

I still can't cut paper along a straight line, so I think this kind of paper art is pretty far beyond my reach.

If you're a weather geek like me, you may enjoy playing with this tool from, which allows you to create weather conditions that may or may not spawn a hurricane (click on the "shortcut" at the bottom of the page, or section 7 to go straight to it)

Whether you're a blogger or just in the market for some pictures, here's a site that provides tons of links to free stock images for your perusing pleasure. To read more about stock images and how they anticipate global trends, check out this Slate article.

And while you're at it, if you have time, here is a website that helps you write rhymes.

Remember to send all of your greatest links, submissions, pictures and whatnot to, or add FlossyLinks to your Stumble or Google Notebook. Have a great weekend!

[Last Week's Links]

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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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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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]