CLOSE
Original image

Secrets of the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy

Original image

Regular _floss readers may remember the article I posted last month about The Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy. The group gives away $100 grants to people, as long as those people promise to give away the money in a creative way. We got so many excellent reader ideas in the comments section, we decided to take a closer look at the Society's past giveaways.

Before we get started on the actual philanthropic practices of the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy, let's take a quick look at the history of the program. In my original article, I mistakenly said the Society was based in the Bay Area. As it turns out, the San Francisco and Athens, Georgia, branches are only chapters of the original group, which was started by Courtney Martin in New York City back in 2006.

Miss Martin was an aspiring writer who had just finished her first book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, and suddenly found herself in possession of a six-figure royalty advance. Unlike most people, who would be thrilled to have this amount of cash in their pockets, Martin felt guilty that she suddenly had so much money, so she decided to give some of it away to charity. The only problem was that she didn't know how. In the end, she decided to give nine of her friends and family members $100 and then ask them to give it away as they saw fit. She only asked that they reported back to her a month later.

And thus, the Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy was born.

[Image by Flickr user Surat Lozowick.]

The organization met together on a regular basis, but in the last year, their publicity has exploded. The no-longer-secret society was featured in the New York Times, Forbes, and San Francisco Chronicle. Aside from the San Francisco and Athens chapters that have already sprung up, Martin says there are chapters being planned for Maui, Krakow, Houston, Santa Fe, Vancouver and Los Angeles. If your city isn't on the list, Martin encourages you to just start your own anyway. Based on the comments section in our last article, I'd say plenty of you have grand enough ideas to start a chapter in your neighborhood.

Now what about the giveaways that have already taken place in the existing chapters? Here are 15 that definitely stand out as prime examples of creative philanthropy in motion.

  • Editor Kate Torgovnick collected the works of young New York students involved in a nonprofit literacy program and is turning their writing into a book.
  • Brett Lockspeiser broke his $100 into dollar bills and sat in a San Francisco BART station with a sign that said, "I will give you $1 for you to give to someone else." Many people gave it to a grateful musician who was playing in the same subway station. One passerby posted a note to Lockspeiser on Craigslist later, assuring she did pass on the dollar.
  • Television writer Becky Friedman broke her $100 into 10,000 pennies and then passed them along to friends who lived throughout the country. She then asked her friends to spread them out in their cities in order to make lucky pennies easier to find.

[Image by Flickr user Cobalt123.[

  • Helen Coster, a journalist for Forbes, put $100 into a "thank you" card and then asked her friend to give it to the friendly clerk at the local drug store who always manages to brighten her day when she buys toothpaste.
  • Kamy Wicoff, the founder of SheWrites.com, offered the award to the most frequent commenter on her woman's writing website. The winner of the $100 ended up being a former corrections officer who was looking to take up writing.
  • Alphabet City resident Michael Radparvar spent his $100 to fix a bike he found on the street, which he then gave to a person whose bike was recently stolen.
  • David Ibnale tried to give away umbrellas to passersby during a Bay Area rainstorm, only to find that many people thought it was a suspicious act.
  • Jocelyn Wyatt filled up two boxes with Reese's peanut butter cups, Kraft macaroni and cheese, and red licorice and then sent them to college students who were doing volunteer work in Guatemala and Senegal. Since she spent the full $100 on the treats, she had to spend an extra $120 of her own money to ship the food.
  • Christina Zanfagna lived out a movie scene and offered to buy drinks for everyone in a restaurant. How many times have you wanted to yell out to everyone "the next round's on me"?
  • Clark Kellogg put the $100 in a bank account and estimated that it will turn into $2.1 million (??) in 100 years. He has left written instructions for his great-granddaughter to distribute the funds to strangers when she retrieves it in the next century.
  • Jeremy Mende brought a stack of dollar bills to San Francisco's Union Square and then offered to pay people $1 if they had a conversation with one another. He videotaped the results and it's now a popular online video:

100 Dollars 50 Conversations from MendeDesign on Vimeo.

  • That's not the only viral video showing the works of these guerrilla do-gooders. Andrew Marantz paid strangers in New York's Bryant Park to hold his hand and share secrets while he taped the connections:
  • Joshua Krafchin walked along New York's B train and begged people to take one dollar bills from him. Like Ibnale, he found a lot of people were surprisingly suspicious to take something from a stranger with no strings attached. The expressions of the distrustful subway riders are pretty amusing:
  • Martin's mother broke the $100 into 400 quarters and spread them around a grammar school playground, which provided the kids with one of the most stimulating recesses they had ever had.
  • Amy Coenen wrote inspirational messages about giving on the back of $5 bills and then left them as tips throughout the city.

I know many readers already left comments about what you would do with $100, but if you haven't already, share your ideas here. Also, tell the tales of the time a stranger's generosity helped brighten your day.

I think between all of you we can easily spark enough inspiration to bring a few new chapters to the Society.

As for me, I'd send anonymous cash donations to a few of my favorite blog writers. There are a lot of bloggers out there that bring me hours of joy and I know they get minimal thanks and compensation for their time.

twitterbanner.jpg

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
technology
arrow
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
Original image
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!

Original image
iStock
Sponsor Content: BarkBox
arrow
8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
Original image
iStock

Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

SECTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
BIG QUESTIONS
WEATHER WATCH
BE THE CHANGE
JOB SECRETS
QUIZZES
WORLD WAR 1
SMART SHOPPING
STONES, BONES, & WRECKS
#TBT
THE PRESIDENTS
WORDS
RETROBITUARIES