CLOSE
Original image

Be Amazing: Print Your Own Money

Original image

Whether you're looking to glow in the dark, swallow a sword, quit smoking, find Atlantis, get out of jury duty, buy the Moon, sink a battleship, perform your own surgeries, or become a ninja, our new book Be Amazing covers all the essential life skills! This week, we'll be excerpting a few lessons from the book.

Here are three home-grown monetary systems you should avoid copying too closely:

The Raam

Although best known for his contribution to the spiritual lives of the Beatles, Yogi Maharishi Mahesh and his Transcendental Meditation movement recently got into another business: International financing. In 2001 or 2002 (reports differ), the Maharishi's so-called spiritual nation, the Global Country of World Peace, began issuing its own legal tender. Called the "Raam" and adorned with Indian-style art, the bills are currently only in use in TM"“associated communities, like Vedic City, Iowa, and some areas of the Netherlands, where their exchange rate reportedly rests at $10 or 10 Euros per 1 Raam.

The REAL Dollar

The Midwest apparently attracts a lot of people dissatisfied with the dollar. Just down the interstate from Vedic City, Iowa, you'll find Lawrence, Kansas, a mid-size college town that began printing its own currency in 2000. Meant to encourage people and businesses to buy locally, REAL (Realizing Economic Alternatives in Lawrence) Dollars were printed in denominations of $1, $3, and $10 and featured images of home-town heroes like Langston Hughes and William S. Burroughs. Unfortunately, their creation managed to coincide with the rise of the cashless society. Today, of the $65,000 worth of REAL Dollars printed, only $5,000 remain in circulation—much of that in the hands of out-of-state collectors.

The Company-Store Token

Think your job's the pits? Trust us, it could be worse— at least you're paid in U.S. greenbacks. For blue-collar workers in America and England during the 19th and early 20th centuries, payday often meant pay in non-exchangeable tokens, which could only be used at stores owned by their bosses. You see the problem? Of course, there was some logic to this. Many factories and most mines were far from established cities, so owners built housing, stores, churches, and schools for workers' families, making it more convenient than traveling all the way to a non-company town just to go shopping. Still, without competition, company stores were free to over-charge and mistreat customers, who, until the labor reforms of the 20th century, had little recourse.

Picture 14.png

Want the new book plus a new mental_floss shirt for under $20? Here are the details.

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
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!

Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
entertainment
arrow
What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
Original image
Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES