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7 Ways to Nap at Work

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Recent studies show that an afternoon nap is good for us. I can vouch for that, as I nap every day around 2PM. That's easy for me, since I have flexible work hours and my bed is maybe 20 feet from my office. Those of you in an office setting may have to make strategic plans to fit a catnap into your busy work schedule. You can find tips for power-napping, but most of these guides assume that a short nap is allowed in the workplace, which you and I know is rarely the case. Here are some ways to sneak a catnap surreptitiously.

1. Prop Your Head

This illustrated guide looks at the different ways we try to prop up our heads to appear to be working when we're asleep. It doesn't always work, and you may find yourself resorting to the George Costanza method of sleeping under your desk.

2. Open Your Eyes

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Some of us have perfected the art of sleeping while sitting up. Too bad our closed eyes give us away, but that can be fixed as well with Sleep Safe Tape. The cellophane tape has eyes printed on it that you can peel off, apply to your eyelids, and appear awake while you snooze through a boring meeting.

3. Make Noise

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Of course, even if the boss can't see you, he or she may be listening to make sure some kind of work is being done. There's an app for that! iNap@work is an iPhone app that plays work sounds while you sleep: typing, mouse clicking, throat clearing, paper shuffling, all the usual stuff that goes in in productive office environments. The mix and frequency of the sounds are adjustable, so your supervisor won't notice the exact same sequence coming from every office where someone is napping.

4. Get Close to Your Laptop

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This probably won't fool anyone, but a Laptop Pillow would be so nice and soft just sitting there on your desk, beckoning you to lay your head down. As far as I can tell, this pillow was made for a Pepsi ad, and is not available to buy.

5. Read a Book

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However, the Workaholic Pillow is available from Japan. It's a pillow inside a book cover, which means even if you are caught, you'll appear to have worked until sleep overcame you. The pillow is easily folded up and stored on a bookshelf. Of course, this would be easier to explain to your supervisor if you know how to read Japanese.

6. Wear a Disguise

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Another great idea is shown in this Brazilian ad campaign for Suplicy Coffee. This one only works if your boss just takes a quick glance at you. And this method could present some stylistic challenges for women.

7. Treat Yourself

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Mental_floss being the 21st century operation that it is, MY bosses understand the importance of a workday nap! If you are fortunate enough to work for a company that encourages naps, Metro Naps has office furniture that will make your power napping simple and pleasurable. Their Energy Pod is optimized to make the most out of the short time you can get away with napping at work. Lucky you!

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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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May 23, 2017
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