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The Weekend Links

Candy Land and Monopoly are both board games that are, brilliantly, (read: such a bad idea) being made into movies. Where will it end? Minesweeper: The Movie? Minesweeper really frustrated me. I'd forgotten so many of the nuances they mention - "if there's just one in the corner, it's probably a mine!" "What happens when it gets to 999?"
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Do you get sick and tired of all those websites devoted to excruciatingly cute tiny creatures and animals? Then this blog is for you. Strong language warning, for those who don't care for it. Some of the title headings are pretty funny. Now is the time to get control and tell those little baby animals that they will no longer exert their powers of precious over you! (Thanks to Meg for that link)
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I am vehemently opposed to Daylight Saving Time, and whether your love it or hate it, check out some facts and figures. I'm pretty sure I'm not going to go on it next year and just operate, for all purposes, on central time despite being on the East Coast. On topic, I believe I've posted this piece on the art of napping before but I feel it apropos given all this DLS talk.
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How would some of our favorite sketches play out in the hands of a different director? Who's On First directed by Wes Anderson for instance? Or perhaps a scathing portrayal of the Department of Silly Walks documented by Michael Moore? See for yourself. (Merci Merinda!)
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Beautiful photos of a rain installation. In some ways better than the real thing!
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Protect yourself from incorrectly using these 32 Most Commonly Misused Words and Phrases with this helpful guide.
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A Google Search lesson on semantics (and the dangers of supplementing one's speech with numbers)
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If you missed it, the strange-but-true stories behind 5 Famous WTF Images.

From the fertile linkage ground that is my friend Thomas' away status .... 100 intriguing design book covers. (but of course they are - they're for design!)
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The kinda depressing but interesting Interactive Unemployment Map, from the New York Times. They should turn this into a support group / social networking site.
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Last week, we needed a picture of a pincushion. Not finding anything usable on the stock image sites we subscribe to, we turned to Etsy entrepreneur Dotty. If you're in a pincushion-buying mood, head over to her store, dottyral. Thanks, Dotty!
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From the Annals of Too Much Time, embroidered comic strips. I feel the danger here is that I would want new ones, and I would get tired of the one joke over and over again. Maybe not. (Thanks to Weekend Links Faithful Jan for that find)
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Why buy a new car when you can just use a little do-it-yourself knowhow to make your old car a hot model!
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A Lesson for a Dreary Economy: reacquaint yourself with the many uses and miracles of baking soda.
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Has this scholar identified a true portrait of the Bard as he hath appeared? He doesn't look quite so much like your beat artist uncle now, does he?
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Impress your friends with your knowledge by taking open Yale psych courses available free online.
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From "Weird Asia News": Swiss Watch Found in 400-Year Old Chinese Tomb
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In honor of the pink dolphin, a gallery of albino animals.

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Much thanks always to everyone who sent in links - don't stop now! Send all links to FlossyLinks@gmail.com!

[Last Weekend's Links]

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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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!

Original image
iStock
Animals
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Scientists Think They Know How Whales Got So Big
May 24, 2017
Original image
iStock

It can be difficult to understand how enormous the blue whale—the largest animal to ever exist—really is. The mammal can measure up to 105 feet long, have a tongue that can weigh as much as an elephant, and have a massive, golf cart–sized heart powering a 200-ton frame. But while the blue whale might currently be the Andre the Giant of the sea, it wasn’t always so imposing.

For the majority of the 30 million years that baleen whales (the blue whale is one) have occupied the Earth, the mammals usually topped off at roughly 30 feet in length. It wasn’t until about 3 million years ago that the clade of whales experienced an evolutionary growth spurt, tripling in size. And scientists haven’t had any concrete idea why, Wired reports.

A study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B might help change that. Researchers examined fossil records and studied phylogenetic models (evolutionary relationships) among baleen whales, and found some evidence that climate change may have been the catalyst for turning the large animals into behemoths.

As the ice ages wore on and oceans were receiving nutrient-rich runoff, the whales encountered an increasing number of krill—the small, shrimp-like creatures that provided a food source—resulting from upwelling waters. The more they ate, the more they grew, and their bodies adapted over time. Their mouths grew larger and their fat stores increased, helping them to fuel longer migrations to additional food-enriched areas. Today blue whales eat up to four tons of krill every day.

If climate change set the ancestors of the blue whale on the path to its enormous size today, the study invites the question of what it might do to them in the future. Changes in ocean currents or temperature could alter the amount of available nutrients to whales, cutting off their food supply. With demand for whale oil in the 1900s having already dented their numbers, scientists are hoping that further shifts in their oceanic ecosystem won’t relegate them to history.

[h/t Wired]

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