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The Quick 10: 10 Diamond-Encrusted Things You Don't Need

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I would think that in this economy, the proliferation of everyday items festooned with diamonds would grind to a halt. But I'm wrong, and here are 10 pieces of evidence that prove it.

earbuds1. Earbuds. Not only are there 59 diamonds on each bud, they're made out of 18-carat gold. And they're only $5,200!


2. iPod. Duh. If you're going to have the blinged-out earbuds, you'd better have the complementing iPod. For $12,495, you get a white-gold, 4G Nano with 480 diamonds.


3. Yalos LCD TV. It has a white-gold panel and a smattering of diamonds throughout the screen's edge. The "smattering" adds up to 20 carats. It's a bargain at $127,000.


4. Hot Wheels car. Again with the white gold. Hot Wheels premiered this $140,000 toy last February. It has more than 2,700 blue diamonds, which are not quite 23 carats in total. The tail lights are made out of rubies, no less.

visa5. Visa Card. It's not exactly "encrusted," but still seems like an unnecessary use of a diamond. The card, containing one .02 carat diamond, is called the Visa Infinite and is issued by the Eurasian Bank in Kazakhstan to clients who make $300,000 or more annually. Considering that ¼ of the population in Kazakhstan lives in poverty, these things are probably few and far between.


6. iPhone. Austrian jeweler Peter Aloisson recently made the priciest iPhone known to man: it's solid 18-carat yellow gold, white gold and rose gold, has 138 brilliant cut diamonds and one 6.6 rare diamond that serves as the home button. It'll only set you back $2,517,345.

toothpick7. Toothpick sleeve. It's soooo embarrassing when you're at a party and get something in your teeth and have to pick it out with a regular old wooden toothpick. How low-brow can you get? Luckily, you can disguise your crappy pick with a diamond-and-gold toothpick sleeve that will look like a million bucks while you pick spinach out of your gap. Or at least 800 bucks "“ that's what they start at.

8. Memory Stick. I totally need this for all of the writing I do. I bounce around to several different computers, you know, and I totally make enough money blogging to buy a memory stick encrusted with 600 brilliant-cut diamonds. Yeeeaaahhh. Bonus: you can get it in white or yellow gold!

9. The ubiquitous Victoria's Secret bra. The 2008 version included 3,575 black diamonds and 34 rubies, with two huge black diamond drops. The gems came in at more than 1500 carats and will cost one lucky person just $5 million.
pacified
10. Pacifier. Because your baby really cares what it drools all over. But if you care what your baby drools all over, you can shell out $17,000 for this white gold binky encrusted with 278 white diamonds "“ a total of three carats. Or you could start saving for college. But you know, whatever. And if a bejeweled pacifier just isn't luxurious enough, click the link - there are plenty of other expensive sparkly things you can buy your child.

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While they might not be diamond-encrusted, we're giving away five $10,000 scholarships. All you have to do is tell us, in 750 words or less, why you should win. But you have to tell us by January 31st. We look forward to reading your entries!

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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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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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