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The Weekend Links

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Through the years Santa has taken on many forms, but a biker? A penguin? These are just a few of the more recent incarnations of the man we called Claus.
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Vanity thy name is ... all of these 7 incredibly vain historical figures!
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Airports are pretty crazy during the holidays, and delays are common. However, there are a few airports that are so cool and unique that you may wish you were Tom Hanks in the movie "Terminal" just to have the time to explore them all.
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9 Amazing Can Sculptures, including a caterpillar made out of 9,168 cans of tuna and Coney Island sculpture made out of over 6,000 cans of various vegetables!
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Have yourself a merry ... and terribly traumatic OMG shield the children's eyes! kind of holiday with this giant Santa statue on fire in Brazil.
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Like a flash fire or a flash flood, a flash mob can happen anywhere ... especially if there's dancing involved. Here are the Top 10 Flash Mobs of 2009.
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When I saw these "25 Worst Album Covers of the Decade" at first I thought, "oh great, another decade list." Then I thought ... "how can this possibly be real??" to "I have to post this immediately." Enjoy!
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Just for the "cool" of it: an animation xray of a mouth talking
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It's Tiger this and Tiger that all over the media - but just how well do you know your Hollywood mistresses? Take the quiz and judge your tabloid prowess.
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You guys know I always bring you the most up-to-date news on geeks inheriting the Earth, so here is the latest: They have usurped Christmas! The evidence? These 11 extremely geeky ornaments. (Thanks Jan!)
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Plenty of celebrities and politicians may wish there was no such thing as text messaging (as it has, y'know, lead to a downfall or two), but there are some cases where a well-placed text might have been just the thing, such as these (Imagined) Text Messages From Famous Trials.
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Speaking of scandal, this San Antonio blog quickly visualizes the mystery of why so many tabloid covers look the same ... (Answer: because they are!)
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This link goes out to all designers, especially for the web, and anyone who has spent time on strategic web committees: I give you (thunder clash) web design from hell.
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Snuggle up in the cold weather with some deeply ponderous movies - though by no means a definitive list, a good place to start are these 10 Movies that Make You Think.
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Some amazing 3D advertisements to catch your eye (or potentially put your eye out if you get too close)
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Don't you wish you had friends like these? One Facebook comment chain spirals out of control in a funny way. One more from CollegeHumor: what if the Internet named TV shows?
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Nature doing amazing things: silk frost.
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Finally, here's a Weekend Project for all you aspiring CIA ops: how to hollow out a book (with pictures, pictures, and more pictures. Plus some pretty good commentary)
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Thanks as always to everyone who sends in links, with a special shout-out to link faithfuls Jan and Sarah. Your efforts are much appreciated! It's the season of giving so ... give me some links! Send all submissions to FlossyLinks@gmail.com. Have a warm weekend!

[Last Weekend's Links]

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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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
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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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