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Everything's bigger in the UAE

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We've all heard that the United Arab Emirates has been hard at work constructing the world's tallest building. The Burj Dubai currently stands 159 stories tall, and will include 30,000 homes, 9 hotels, 19 residential towers, and the Dubai Mall. The entire project is estimated to cost $20B, but that's hardly the only thing the UAE likes supersized. Here are a few other records the tiny nation holds:

World's Largest Flag

On UAE National Day, a 50,000 square feet flag flew over Abu Dhabi, forming the largest aerial banner ever flown.

World's Largest Indoor Snow Park

Picture 125.pngSki Dubai is 85m high and 85 m wide.

World's Longest and Tallest Bridge

Picture 137.pngThe Sixth Crossing will be 1 mile long at 673 feet high, and is expected to be completed by 2012

World's Largest Mall

Picture 145.pngDubai Mall will include the world's largest aquarium.

World's First Revolving Tower

Picture 154.png55º Time Dubai will be a rotation apartment building that offers its residents 360-degree views across the Dubai cityscape.

World's Tallest and Only 7 Star Hotel

Picture 166.pngBurj Al Arab is one of the world's most expensive hotels, with the Royal Suite going at $28,000 a night.

World's Largest Manmade Island

Picture 173.pngThe Palm are the three largest man-made islands in the world, which are being built on the coast of Dubai. These islands can be recognized from the moon. There's also The World off the coast of Dubai "“ It's a 300 island archipelago made in the shape of the world map.

World's Largest Man-made Waterfront

Picture 186.pngDubai Marina will soon replace California's Marina del Rey as the largest man-made marina in the world. The waterfront will house over 200 high rise buildings as well as some "supertall towers."

World's First Luxury Underwater Hotel

Picture 194.pngThe Hydropolis will be 66 feet below the Persian Gulf.

And of course, World's First Spaceport

Picture 203.pngThe UAE Spaceport in Ras Al-Khaimah, which will offer the world's first suborbital flights.
But that barely scratches the surface. The UAE also has the world's largest indoor pool, the world's largest passenger hub, the world's biggest yacht, the first zero-carbon city in the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi, among other achievements.

Be sure to read more of what Diana learned today here.

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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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Opening Ceremony
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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:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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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]

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