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Lebowskifest

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The Coen Brothers' classic The Big Lebowski hit theaters more than ten years ago, and while it didn't make a big splash at the box office, it's enjoyed a cult status which only seems to grow as time goes on. If ever proof of cult status were required, though, Lebowskifest would be exhibit A. It all started in 2002 in Louisville, Kentucky, when the fest's two founders (also known as the "Founding Dudes") realized they both shared a passion for quoting The Big Lebowski and reasoned that if people were willing to go to tattoo conventions and classic car conventions and Star Trek conventions, wasn't it reasonable that people might also come to a convention which featured free bowling, Lebowksi-inspired costume contests and a bar stocked with White Russians? As the Dude himself said, "If you will it, it is no dream."

timemag.jpgThe fest grew, and now is held several times a year in different cities around the country. It's become a two-day party, which not infrequently features guests who appeared in the film: everyone ranging from Jeff Bridges (the "Dude" himself) to the Big Lebowski himself (David Huddleston) and the guy who played Saddam Hussein in the Dude's elaborate, Busby-Berkeley-style dream sequences. It's even spawned a copycat festival across the pond, in London, known as "The Dude Abides." A journalist for the Guardian describes the scene at a 2005 Dude Abides fest:

Alongside myriad versions of The Dude (lank hair, woolly cardigan, shorts) there was every interpretation of the film's significant scenes you could think of: three men in red Lycra catsuits were wielding giant scissors, re-enacting a nightmare The Dude has about having his testicles chopped off by nihilists; the wheelchair-user Jeffrey Lebowski mentions having his legs blown away by "some Chinaman in Korea" - a Chinaman turned up clutching two severed legs.

Over a soundtrack of Creedence Clearwater (The Dude's kind of band) and as many White Russians as you could drink, the bowling commenced in earnest. The large number of attractive women - many dressed as bowling pin-clad figures from The Dude's fantasies - suggested that these Big Lebowski fans did have a life outside of the film, and by the end of the evening the drunken bad behaviour confirmed Scott's claim that this was indeed cooler than the average Star Trek convention.

"London can be a lonely place. The Dude is the kind of guy we'd all like as our friend," he said from his wheelchair (he came as Lebowski). Then a nihilist screamed, "I believe in nothing!" and grabbed Scott's wheelchair to send it careering down a bowling lane and hit a perfect strike. That was the last I saw of him.

For those of you who are interested, there's a Lebowskifest coming up in LA on May 7-8 at the Wiltern Theater, where 8-year-old Japanese guitar prodigy Yuto Miyazawa will rock the house, followed by a screening of the movie (akin, I imagine, to screening the Rocky Horror Picture Show surrounded by devoted fans). Day two is all about bowling, White Russians, costumes and surprise guests.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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