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The Korean New Yorker: Do-Ho Suh

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Back at the end of May, I promised to cover 13 artists from 13 different countries in the 13 "Feel Art Again" posts for the month of June. Due to personal issues, I've gotten a little behind schedule, but I'll be working this week to fulfill my promise.

At the request of reader Corrine S., today's "Feel Art Again" features the "amazingly detailed works" of sculptor Do-Ho Suh. Born in South Korea, Suh now splits his time between New York and South Korea.

1. Until the 11th grade, Do-Ho Suh planned to be a marine biologist; fish and marine biology were "the passion of [his] life." Although Suh changed his career path just before leaving for college, he still reads about fish "over and over again." According to Suh, he keeps books about fish on his bedside table because "they are quite relaxing and help [him] fall asleep too."

2. "Staircase" (above right), one of Suh's 2003 installations, is a red nylon reproduction of a staircase and floor in his landlord's apartment. To some, "Staircase" seems to reference Led Zeppelin's memorable song, "Stairway to Heaven." When asked about the reference, Suh replies, "I wouldn't deny it."

3. Suh is famous for his full-scale reproductions of his apartments made from semi-transparent fabrics. To create the spaces, Suh takes precise measurements of the residences, from the size of the rooms down to the size of the electrical outlets. Suh then converts the measurements into patterns and produces the fabric houses in Korea, assisted by master seamstresses. Each of Suh's fabric reproductions of his residences includes every detail of the original, with fabric fireplaces, bookshelves, refrigerators, locks, and more.

4. "Fallen Star 1/5" (above left) is considered by Suh to be "a sort of self-portrait." The sculpture depicts a collision of a traditional Korean house—modeled on Suh's parent's house—into a 19th-century American mansion—the apartment house Suh lived in while attending the Rhode Island School of Design. Of "Fallen Star 1/5," Suh states, "It's my personal journey from Korea to the U.S. and the story of the house that came along with me, or brought me here." Suh actually has a whole story, "a simple story, like a fairy tale," behind the sculpture. (You can read the story here, under "Fairy-tale vision.")

Larger versions of "Fallen Star 1/5" and "Staircase" are available.

Fans should check out Suh's Facebook page; Suh at Lehmann Maupin; and the Art:21 feature on Suh.

"Feel Art Again" usually appears three times a week. Looking for a particular artist? Visit our archive for a complete listing of all 250+ artists that have been featured. 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
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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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