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The Quick 10: 10 Surprisingly Interesting Facts About your Computer Mouse

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With the rate touch screen technology is advancing, it probably won’t be long before using a keyboard and mouse is the computer equivalent of keeping an 8-track player in your car. Since today is the anniversary of the day the mouse was invented, however, we’ll celebrate while we can.

1. That’s the first mouse pictured there to the left. It's almost kind of steampunk before we even knew what steampunk was.
2. The trackball preceded the rest of the mouse by more than 10 years but it was a top secret military project. The mouse pad didn't come until more than five years after the mouse.

3. The Oxford English Dictionary recognizes both “computer mice” and “computer mouses” as correct plural forms of the term. A couple of sources, however, recommend referring to them as “mouse devices” just to be on the safe side.

4. Douglas Englebart, the inventor of the mouse, has never seen a dime from the patent. That’s because his patent expired just before the device became widely used with almost every computer. But he’s not cursing his luck – Englebart has had a hand in a multitude of other inventions, including hypertext.

5. If history had been tweaked slightly, it’s possible that we would all be sitting in cubicles with weird headpieces attached to our faces (OK, weirder headpieces attached to our faces). One of Englebart’s prototypes suggested using a tracking device based on head movements instead of manual mouse clicking, but the mouse was ultimately more convenient to use. No kidding.

6. Ever heard of mouse rage? It’s a real thing that typically involves taking your computer frustrations out on your mouse and possibly ruining it. Website loading slowly? Smash your mouse against the desk as if that might help (it won’t). Ridiculous number of pop up ads? Just launch your hapless mouse at the wall. Mouse rage is also often caused by gaming. It’s sometimes called Mouse Rage Syndrome or MRS.

7. Like a lot of great inventions, the mouse had its detractors (and still does, I’m sure). In 1984, computer columnist John C. Dvorak wrote, "There is no evidence that people want to use these things".

8. The early versions of the mouse were named after a different critter - the turtle. The "tail" of wire at the end resulted in the name we call it today, of course, but at least one company is capitalizing on the mouse's resemblance to the shelled creature.

9. You can refer to the device as a "mouse" in most countries and people will know what you're talking about. It's called the same thing in English, Spanish, Italian, German, French and Russian, among other languages.

10. Regular computer mouse not cutting it for you these days? Try one of these 10.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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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
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Here's How to Change Your Name on Facebook
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iStock

Whether you want to change your legal name, adopt a new nickname, or simply reinvent your online persona, it's helpful to know the process of resetting your name on Facebook. The social media site isn't a fan of fake accounts, and as a result changing your name is a little more complicated than updating your profile picture or relationship status. Luckily, Daily Dot laid out the steps.

Start by going to the blue bar at the top of the page in desktop view and clicking the down arrow to the far right. From here, go to Settings. This should take you to the General Account Settings page. Find your name as it appears on your profile and click the Edit link to the right of it. Now, you can input your preferred first and last name, and if you’d like, your middle name.

The steps are similar in Facebook mobile. To find Settings, tap the More option in the bottom right corner. Go to Account Settings, then General, then hit your name to change it.

Whatever you type should adhere to Facebook's guidelines, which prohibit symbols, numbers, unusual capitalization, and honorifics like Mr., Ms., and Dr. Before landing on a name, make sure you’re ready to commit to it: Facebook won’t let you update it again for 60 days. If you aren’t happy with these restrictions, adding a secondary name or a name pronunciation might better suit your needs. You can do this by going to the Details About You heading under the About page of your profile.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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