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Happy Birthday, "Feel Art Again"!

As of today, "Feel Art Again" has been a regular feature on mental_floss for 52 full weeks, having made its debut on September 26, 2007, with Caspar David Friedrich's "Two Men Contemplating the Moon." To celebrate this momentous occasion, today's post is a journey through time, "Feel Art Again" style. Every artist in the past 52 weeks is listed below (linked to the original posts), arranged by artist's birth year (since I don't have dates for every painting).

1450 "“ 1550

Leonardo da Vinci, "Mona Lisa"
Albrecht Durer, "Self-Portrait at 26"
Michelangelo (di Lodovico Simoni), "Pietà"
Sanzio "Raphael" Raffaello, "The Three Graces"
Vecellio "Titian" Tiziano, "Portrait of Isabella of Portugal"
Giulio Romano (part of November Artists post)
Giuseppe Arcimboldo, "The Librarian"
Domenikos Theotokopoulos, "A Lady in a Fur Wrap"

1550 "“ 1650

(Michelangelo Merisi de) Caravaggio, "Amor Vincit Omnia"
Artemisia Gentileschi, "Judith Beheading Holofernes"
Diego Velazquez, "Las Meninas"
Cornelis Saftleven, "An Enchanted Cellar with Animals"
Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, "Adoration of the Wise Men"
Jan Steen, "The Feast of St. Nicholas"
Johannes Vermeer, "Allegory of the Catholic Faith"
Melchior d'Hondecoeter, "Peacocks"

1650 "“ 1750

Jean-Baptiste Van Loo, "The Triumph of Galatea"
William Hogarth, "An Election Entertainment"
Giovanni "Canaletto" Canal, "View of the Entrance to the Arsenal"
Joseph Vernet, "The Shipwreck"
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, "The Love Letter" and "Love Letters"
Charles Peale, "Self-Portrait", "The Artist in his Museum", and "George Washington at Princeton"
Jacques-Louis David, "Madame Récamier"

1750 "“ 1850

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Lebrun, "Queen Marie-Antoinette and her Children"
Gilbert Stuart, portraits of George Washington
John Trumbull, "Surrender of Lord Cornwallis"
Alexander Nasmyth, "A View of Tantallon Castle"
Carle Vernet, "Equestrian Portrait of Emperor Napoleon I"
Katsushika Hokusai, "Iris Flower and Grasshopper"
Constance Charpentier, "Melancholy"
Caspar David Friedrich, "Two Men Contemplating the Moon"
John Constable, "The Cornfield"
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, "Joan of Arc at Coronation of Charles VII"
Horace Vernet, "Le Dernier Grenadier de Waterloo"
Asher Durand, "The Beeches"
Karl Briullov, "Last Day of Pompeii"
Samuel Palmer, "In a Shoreham Garden"
Carl Spitzweg, "The Bookworm"
Paul Kane, "Indian Encampment on Lake Huron"
Adolph Tidemand, "The Bridal Procession in Hardanger"
Ivan Aivazovsky, "The Ninth Wave"
Mary Cassatt, "The Child's Bath"
Jean-Léon Gérôme, "Painting Breathes Life Into Sculpture"
William-Adolphe Bouguereau, "A Young Girl Defending Herself Against Eros"
Hans Gude, "The Bridal Procession in Hardanger"
Gustave Moreau, "The Triumph of Alexander the Great"
Dante Rossetti, "Lady Lilith"
Auguste Toulmouche, "La Fiancée Hésitante"
Sir John Everett Millais, "Christ in the House of His Parents"
Camille Pissarro, "Landscape in the Vicinity of Louveciennes"
Alexei Savrasov, "Sunset Over the Marsh"
Sir Edward Burne-Jones, "Mirror of Venus"
Edgar Degas, "The Dance Class"
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, "Unconscious Rivals" and "The Roses of Heliogabalus"
Sir Edward John Poynter, "Israel in Egypt"
Walter Goodman, "The Printseller"
Alfred Sisley, "The Lane of Poplars at Moret"
Paul Cézanne, "Boy in the Red Waistcoat"
Daniel Ridgway Knight, "At Poissy 'Your Health'"
Auguste Rodin (part of November Artists post)
Claude Monet, "Poppy Field at Vetheuil"
Alexei Harlamoff, "Young Flower Girls"
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Alfred Sisley & His Wife"
Thomas Eakins, "The Champion Single Sculls"
Henri Rousseau, "Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)"
Pal Szinyei Merse, "Lark"
Vasily Surikov, "The Boyarynia Morozova"
Henry Lerolle, "The Organ Rehearsal"
Abbot Thayer, "A Virgin"

1850 "“ 1950

Lady Laura Alma-Tadema, "Gathering Pansies"
Paul Signac
Vincent Van Gogh, "Irises" and "Blooming Chestnut Branches"
Carl Larsson, "Midvinterblot"
Cecilia Beaux, "Les Derniers Jours d'Enfance"
Mikhail Vrubel, "The Parting of Sea King and Princess Volhova"
Sir John Lavery, "Spring"
Georges-Pierre Seurat, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte"
Alphonse Mucha, "Introduction of the Slavonic Liturgy"
John William Godward, "The Sweet Siesta of a Summer Day"
Konstantin Korovin, "Parisian Street"
Louis Marie de Schryver, "Elysées"
Edvard Munch, "The Scream"
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, "The Bed"
Henri Matisse (part of November Artists post)
Maxfield Parrish, "Daybreak"
Constantin Brancusi, "Endless Column"
Pablo Picasso, "First Communion"
Edward Hopper, "Chop Suey"
José Orozco, "Modern Human Sacrifice"
Amedeo Modigliani, "Nude on a Blue Cushion"
Georgia O'Keeffe, "Light Iris" and "The Radiator Building at Night"
Marcel Duchamp (four works of art)
Marc Chagall, "Double Portrait with a Wineglass"
Aristarkh Lentulov, "Vasily the Blessed Cathedral"
Pavel Korin, "Farewell to Rus"
Norman Rockwell (part of November Artists post)
Dorothea Lange, "Carrot Pullers..."
Rene Magritte (part of November Artists II post)
Henry Moore, "The Family Group"
Mark Rothko, "Entrance to Subway"
Walker Evans, "Roadside Stand..."
Salvador Dali, "The Persistence of Memory"
Clyfford Still (part of November Artists II post)
Elmyr de Hory (forger)
Frida Kahlo, "Moses"
Dorothea Tanning, "The Birthday"
Alton Tobey (part of November Artists post)
Jack Delano, "An 'open all night' gas station..."
Robert Motherwell, "Africa 4"
Diane Arbus (four photographs)
Alex Katz, "Milly and Sally"
Sol LeWitt (two works of art)
Patricia Buckley Moss (two paintings)
Dale Chihuly, "Seaform Pavilion" (Chihuly Bridge of Glass)

1950 "“ present

Gregory Crewdson, "Untitled, Winter 2004"
Olafur Eliasson, NYC waterfalls
Julian Beever, "Meeting Madame Butterfly"
Lori Nix, "Natural History"
DuanPen, "CV0003"

"Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with artist suggestions or details of current exhibitions.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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