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The Weekend Links

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From SomeGreyBloke, What Facebook Is For. Comic gold that includes gems such as "PIAF ... little joke there for people who like acronyms and deceased French warblers." (Thanks Jan!)
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My estimable co-worker Nick sent me this fascinating little news headline for your Weird News Weekend, "Man Distracted By Cher Shoots Wife" (we can laugh at this because she's ok).
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Speaking of great headlines, an oldie but goodie from The Onion: CIA Realizes It's Been Using Black Highlighters All These Years
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Don't let anyone tell you you are too old for crayons; Flossy friend Larry has found some rad crayon art.
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Why if the real world operated like Facebook or MySpace? There would probably be real life Rick Rolls
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Scary-good Face Painting

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The 15 Strangest College Courses In America that you wish you had! I enjoyed my upper level Animals, Cannibals and Vegetables class immensely. What were/are some of your favorite odd classes, Flossers?
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It's never too early to start planning next year's super elaborate Halloween costume.
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Brain warp causation alert: glow in the dark dancers
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Global geography quiz to play alone or with other people. Click "visit" to enter without signing in. Any high scores? I describe my score as "middling."
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Brighten up your computer desktop with these beautiful and unique offerings.
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Now for a slew of pictures - first, 15 of the World's Most Fabulous and Funky Furniture Sets

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Secondly, 50 Strange Buildings of the World
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And finally, Fantastic and Unique Shapes of Mushrooms!

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Last weekend I had a list of unfortunate cakes gone wrong, so to counteract here's a list of really cool ones gone right.
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Use money origami to keep your money close by turning it into a fashion accessory, or make gifts of cash more interesting.
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Warm Springs, Georgia may boast the waters that FDR used as a restorative, but here are 7 other amazing hot springs in the world (many of which may be too hot to handle!)
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As spring slowly approaches and you spend less time sitting at your computer browsing internet oddities in favor of the outdoors, don't slack on sending in links! Findings, pictures, blogs and whatnot can all be directed to: FlossyLinks@gmail.com, or find me on twitter (FlossyAlli). Have a great week!

[Last Weekend's Links]

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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