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The Weekend Links

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Let's start things off with a vintage viral video clip that never fails to bring the laughs - a Halloween Prank that either went very right or very wrong, depending on who you are in the video!
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Just in time for All Hallows Eve, Sarah brings us this find: 10 films that even scare Wes Craven.
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To continue on with further spooky happenings, check out some of these truly scary Scarecrows (ok, some are just silly).
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Sure, there are plenty of really cute baby costumes out there, but there are also quite a few inappropriate things to dress your baby in (like a baby pimp? Or baby MJ?) See for yourself!
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Ok, here's the last Halloween link for ya - the 15 Funniest Knockoff Halloween Costumes. I love the "veiled" name of "8 is too much" and also "Immortal Male Colonial."
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Just when you thought Bento couldn't get any cooler ... here are some examples featuring comic book characters that blow all the others out of the water.
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Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce you to the greatest invention on Earth: the Playable Electric Guitar Shirt.
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From Kimberly, "Jeffrey Thomas made some creepy artwork featuring Disney princesses that he titled 'Twisted Princess'. Pretty creepy pictures! Our childhood would be different if we grew up with these ladies!" Some are fierce but others are certifiably spooky!

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From the Annals of Too Much Time: the world's smallest working train model.
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Extra! Extra! Read all about it: Real-life Harry Potter reveals why sharing the wizard's name has made his life a misery. I really love how emo all of the pictures are. Do any of you Flossers share your name (purposefully or otherwise) with famous celebrities or characters?
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For some of us, winter is already here (even in Georgia!). Get in the winter spirit by making virtual snowflakes and checking out the beauties others have made in the gallery. (PS - click the "I know I have Flash" option if given and you have the updates - sometimes it can't always detect it automatically).
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What words can do this justice? Some very beautiful and unique cloud formations (some are quite ominous!)
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Flossy reader Rachel has found an oddly amusing site called Google Fight. You can have two entities compete (or choose from their list of popular opponents), and the winner will be determined based on how many more search engine hits one gets over the other. (Another title may simply be "which is more popular?")
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From Merinda, "Any old Amiga users at Mental Floss? This seriously seriously gave me flashbacks. And it's got the juggler!" Indeed, this Amiga simulation makes all of us wonder how we ever got by before!
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TV doesn't always rot your brain - in some cases it can help you fight crime. In fact, "CSI" helped one this teen fan nab a local locker thief!
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There's a cause for everything these days ... even jerks. Here's a video where Douchebags have united to take a stand against Non-Douches. (Warning: some strong, suggestive language!)
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For those of you who aren't yet in the working world, here a hint about the 5 Bosses You'll Have After College. For those of us who are already here ... recognize any?
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Anyone who loved the anvil guy from last weekend will appreciate this list of the 15 most explosive videos on the internet (literally - and yes, anvil guy is featured).
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Finally, every so often, there comes a .gif that mesmerizes and enchants. For me this happens at least once a day, but this Dog helping dog .gif just needed to be shared!
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I hope everyone has a safe and howling Halloween! When you're sick at home from eating too much candy (or indulging in other excesses) and are surfing around the internet, send all links of interest to FlossyLinks@gmail.com! Also share any great costume ideas or sightings in the comments (Anyone going as Balloon Boy this year?)

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