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The Hermit of Holland Park: Lucian Freud

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At the request of reader Lauren, today's "Feel Art Again" post features the famous—and infamous—grandson of Sigmund Freud, the 86-year-old British painter Lucian Freud. Some of the highlights of his fascinating life:

1. School was never quite up his alley. At his first school, where he often skipped his art class, "all Freud acquired was a bad reputation." He was expelled from another school, supposedly after dropping trou in public; he had already served many hours of "punishment runs." Lucian Freud continued his tradition of truancy and "erratic attendance" at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and later at the East Anglian School of Art. According to some sources, Freud's carelessness with cigarettes was the cause behind a fire at East Anglian. In 1993, Freud was offered an honorary degree from Oxford, but refused it on the grounds that he was neither an Oxford grad, nor a grad of any university.

2. He may have as many as 40 children. Although some sources dispute such a high number, Freud has at least 15 confirmed children with at least 6 different women. Every 10 years, about 15 members of the Freud brood congregate at a half-siblings reunion, though the patriarch himself never attends.

3. Although he's known as "the Hermit of Holland Park," Freud still gets out enough to spend time with some pretty famous friends. He has painted portraits of his friend and fellow artist Francis Bacon and was cozy with Kate Moss, painting a naked portrait of her while she was pregnant. While Ian Fleming was writing "Casino Royale," Freud was staying at his Goldeneye estate in Jamaica painting a still-life of bananas.

4. Freud has no qualms about denying portrait requests if he dislikes the people, no matter how famous they are. He turned down Pope John Paul II and Princess Diana, as well as Andrew Lloyd Webber, who requested a portrait of his wife Madeleine. (According to Freud, Webber "threatened" him with free tickets for his shows.)

5. When he was chosen to represent Britain at the 1954 Venice Biennale, Freud submitted his choice of paintings to the selection committee. Several paintings were "snubbed" by the committee, leaving Freud so disgusted that he wrote a series of angry letters to the council overseeing the process. The letters, one of which was written in green crayon, were full of cross-outs and spelling mistakes; the handwriting has been described as "childish.

Larger versions of Freud's 1972 paintings "The Painter's Mother III" (above left) and "Factory in North London" (above right) are available.

Fans should check out Tate Britain's 2002 Freud exhibition; MoMA's 2007 exhibition of Freud etchings and paintings; the collection of Freud's work on Museum Syndicate; and BBC4's 1988 interview with Freud.

"Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.

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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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