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The Weekend Links

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This link is too good to not have already traversed the well worn paths of the internet yet, but if you haven't seen it, I feel it is my duty to provide for you what I consider to be one of the greatest achievements in mixing nostalgia with current pop candy. A guy bought those infamous singing animals from Chuck E. Cheese and programs requests into them for the viewing pleasure of the masses. Check out the band performing Usher's "Love in the Club."

Flossy reader Jill attended Comic Con this year, and has posted excellent pictures of some of the costumes on her blog. Check out the guy dressed as "Nurse" Joker (if anyone can't tell by now, I'm a little Batman-obsessed).

Need a place to shack? You could try living in a dollhouse, or consider this other affordable living arrangement. If you're the more paranoid type, you may want to pool your resources and invest in something a tad sturdier.

Let's face it, technology is taking over our lives. So whether you've started to witness your desktop icons attacking one another or seen the cursor the Bill Gates uses to control the world, perhaps it's just best to give in.

One thing I always like to illustrate in the Weekend Links is the concept that if you have enough time on your hands, you can create anything. Here's another great example of that, in the form of a skeleton created from melted cassettes.

This site allows you to create your own kaleidoscope, which guarantees trippy fun. A more updated version of the site is available here (although it didn't load as fast as the original for me).

TV may be called the Idiot Box and the Boob Tube for good reasons, but sometimes we can learn things from the shows we watch. For example, Animaniacs list the nations of the world in song. You can see how well you retain the information by trying a quiz. Or, on a less global scale, a song about the states and their capitals, after which you can try your hand at this flossy quiz. Did it help?

From Paul, a suggestion for how to experiment with one of the world's most unnatural and resilient compounds ... the Twinkie.

The Glass Armonica ... an instrument banned for seeming to cause insanity, read more about it and listen if you dare.

For music that won't drive you mad (mad, mad I tell you!), Rachel has sent in two great links this week. First, the beatboxing flute guy and his cello-playing friend never fail to impress. Also, everyone should appreciate how those familiar Pachelbel chords find themselves in so many popular songs, as illustrated by the excellent Pachelbel Rant.

From Slashfood.com, "We've had the naked chef who really wasn't naked at all, but have you heard about naked dining? This clip is actually from last year, but it showcases a group who get together, rent a room, and dine in the buff together. Basically, while it's cold outside, they shed their clothes, sit down, and chow down in their birthday suits." (Thanks Jan!)

I promised last week to post some of the creations from your fellow Flossers via MrPicassoHead.com, and here they are:
"Maestro" by Nerak
"Confessions of a Red Hot Lover" by Anonymous (of course)
"Crescendo" by Rachel
"no. 3" by sb22
"The Kiss" by the most excellent Ryan Anderson

Whilst searching for something entirely different on Mental Floss, I discovered a vintage Friday Happy Hour where Jason asked for links while I was out of town. Somehow these got lost in the vault, so I will be posting them, belatedly, next week. In the meantime, keep sending in your findings, pictures, shameless plugs, and whatnot to FlossyLinks@gmail.com!

[Last Week's Links]

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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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