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The Weekend Links

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Every once in a while there's a commercial that, for whatever reason, installs itself into the public conscious. The Progressive commercials, and more specifically, the Progressive sales girl, have garnered a fan following that would make the Budweiser frogs jealous. For those of you who love Flo, here are 5 things about her may not know. (Thanks Sarah!)
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Best news all day - turns out that playing Tetris may build up the old gray matter. Can this also apply to Bejeweled Blitz on Facebook, please?
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There's something out there for everyone - and more than likely, there's also a magazine about it! Even in these tough times, it seems some very specific magazines are still able to hold court in their field because, well, who else is covering Crappie? Or the comings and goings of Cowboys and Indians? (so much wrong, not enough time to get into it)
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Some very creative pillows. I think the stones are my favorite, although the Mac dock does make me smile.
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So everyone in Geekdom and beyond knows now that Disney purchased Marvel comics. But will that mean Spider Mouse is to come? Here are some fun Disney-Marvel mashup ideas.
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For those of you who missed this when I posted it to my Twitter (see what I did there?), a great, hilarious and true song making fun of bike racers and bike hipsters (Thanks to Jeff, my biking guru!)
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Though this spoof video focuses on Arlington, VA, it will ring true to anyone familiar with big city suburbs. Also, it is incredibly funny.

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I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this is probably the largest collection of photo bombing I've ever seen, for whatever that's worth. Some people have no shame! Are any of you Flossers photo bombers? Come on, fess up!
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From the annals of the amazing - 11 Unique Outdoor Sculptures sure to amaze (or confound).
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If this photo is true and, as we know, the internet is a dubious place, I'm pretty sure this scenario makes this guy the luckiest in the world.
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For the lads - xkcd very seriously debates urinal protocol (now with math!). Though it's not quite the same with girls, some of the same basic sociological rules apply (if there's one person in a stall, you don't go to the one right next to them! If you can help it, that is).
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So useless, yet so puntastic a foam banana phone.
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Extra! Extra! Enlightened Chinese farmer branches out by growing pears shaped like baby Buddha.
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For everyone who wants to know - how to tie a tie (in four varieties!)
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My neighbor is a champion hula hooper, so this goes out to her: an article on why exercising with hula hoops is great for the body and soothing for the soul. I am a terrible hula hooper, for the record!
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Sand at the beach? Not surprising. But what if it's floating on top of the water? Amazing photographs ensue!
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Finally, your breathtaking space pic of the week.
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A big thank you to everyone who sent in links! Always interesting and always appreciated ... so don't stop now! Keep sending your findings to FlossyLinks@gmail.com, and enjoy your long weekend.

[Last Weekend's Links]

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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Opening Ceremony
fun
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These $425 Jeans Can Turn Into Jorts
May 19, 2017
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Opening Ceremony

Modular clothing used to consist of something simple, like a reversible jacket. Today, it’s a $425 pair of detachable jeans.

Apparel retailer Opening Ceremony recently debuted a pair of “2 in 1 Y/Project” trousers that look fairly peculiar. The legs are held to the crotch by a pair of loops, creating a disjointed C-3PO effect. Undo the loops and you can now remove the legs entirely, leaving a pair of jean shorts in their wake. The result goes from this:

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Opening Ceremony

To this:

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Opening Ceremony

The company also offers a slightly different cut with button tabs in black for $460. If these aren’t audacious enough for you, the Y/Project line includes jumpsuits with removable legs and garter-equipped jeans.

[h/t Mashable]

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