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10 Other Amazing Buildings by 2008's Olympic Architects

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If you have any interest in the Olympics, you've certainly seen Beijing's "Bird's Nest" and "Water Cube." But who are the geniuses behind them? And what other structures pad their résumés? Ben Smith's got all the answers below.

1. Herzog & de Meuron: The Guys Behind the "Bird's Nest"

It's stunning that in a skyline packed with soaring structures and modern design, it is a stadium that stands out. This isn't a fluke, though. The firm responsible for the "Bird's Nest," Herzog and deMeuron, has a long history of designing functional but distinctive structures. In 2001, they were awarded the Pritzker Prize, one of the biggest honors in architecture, for seamlessly incorporating cutting-edge materials (like silkscreened glass!) into their highly elegant structures. In fact, they've been pushing the boundaries of design for years.

As you might imagine, this isn't the Swiss firm's first stadium. They've also designed Germany's Allianz Arena (pictured below) and the St. Jakob-Park Stadium (pictured under) in Switzerland. The Beijing National Stadium, however, is the most sculptural of the three.

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What Herzog and de Meuron seem most known for, though, is their work with museums. The group gained recognition in this area when they converted Bankside Power Station into what's now the Tate Modern gallery in London. On this side of the pond, the best example of their aesthetic can be seen in their expansion of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN. The new portion of the museum has doubled gallery space and created a stir with its unusual angles and crinkled-metal exterior. For a better sense of how much space was added, take a look at the tiny pic below. The original building is the brick portion to the right.

Walker Art Center

While the Walker may be my favorite, the IKMZ building in Germany is a close second. Whatever the facade is created from, it creates a stunning effect.

IKMZ building

2. PTW Architects: The Geniuses Behind the "Water Cube"

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PTW's work isn't often as bold as that of Herzog and deMeuron, but their design for Beijing's Aquatics venue has been making a splash in the design world. Those eye-catching soapy bubbles are based on the Weaire-Phelan structure. And the ETFE (or ethyl tetra fluoro ethylene) pillows that cover the building's steel frame work better than glass-- allowing for more light and heat to enter the building, and decreasing energy costs by 30%. PTW does have experience with other Olympic venues. The firm also designed the Olympic Villages for the Beijing and Sydney games and they oversaw the transformation of the many venues used in the Athens games into Olympic-level facilities.

Outside of the Olympic Games, PTW's work ranges from typical skyscrapers in Australia to more exotic designs. Perhaps their most talked about (and frequently web-linked) project is the beautiful Palm Islands development in Dubai.
Palm Jebel Ali

3. Arup: The Structural Engineers That Make it Happen

While it isn't exactly easy to come up with the idea for a building that looks like a nest or replicates the pattern of soap bubbles, it's quite a different burden to get the building to stand up straight! That's where structural engineers come in, and Arup provides some of the most creative solutions in the business. The firm first gained prominence when they figured out how to create the spectacular arcs of the Syndey Opera House. The structure had been notoriously difficult to implement, and Arup did it by cutting the shapes from hemispheres of the same radius. Their enormous creativity and massive know-how has pushed them to the forefront of the profession, making them one of the most sought-after structural engineering groups in the world.
Sydney Opera House

The Bird's Nest and Water Cube aren't the only Beijing structures the group has worked on, though. The team recently recently oversaw construction on China's new CCTV headquarters. The building is a continuous loop consisting of two towers connected at the top by a horizontal section. The result is yet another spectacular building dotting Beijing's continuously improving skyline.
CCTV building

So, what else has Arup worked on? Some of their notable works in Europe includes the Casa da Música in Portugal, 30 St. Mary Axe in London, and one of my favorite buildings by them, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Arup's work covers a variety of different and creative architectural styles that woudln't otherwise be possible without their knowledge.

Casa da Musica, 30 St. Mary Axe, and Centre Georges Pompidou

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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