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DanKam: Colorblindness "Corrective Lenses" for Your Smartphone

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I'm not colorblind, I'm just "green-weak." At least that's what I tell everyone. I wrote about my color vision problems way back in 2007, explaining my Deuteranomaly, a condition affecting roughly 5 out of every 100 men. There are other forms of colorblindness, but this one is mine. In short, it means that things that other people see as green, I don't -- I see them as brown, or beige, or some other neutral tone. Over the weekend I bought a bunch of glass bottles to put hard cider in. I did not know they were green until I had bottled five gallons of the stuff and taken it to a friend's house.

This is the kind of minor daily embarrassment that a green-weak person takes in stride. "Oh, this sweater is green? I thought it was brown." "Oh, my house is green? I see. How green are we talking?" I've gotten very used to it, and I should emphasize that I can see SOME green (like a big green fir tree) -- it's just that if you add any subtlety to the mix (like tinting a bit of glass), I'm lost.

So I was shocked to see the new DanKam app for Android and iPhone. For three bucks, I have an app that uses my phone's camera and alters the color in realtime, giving me -- for the first time -- a glimpse of "what is green" around me. It basically takes things that are "somewhat green" and makes them VERY GREEN in a way that I can see. (It does the same for red, which in my case is helpful because the only shade of pink I can see is "shocking bubblegum pink.") The app isn't perfect, and it takes some tweaking to get it tuned to your particular needs, but it works. The image at the top of this blog post is an example of DanKam viewing the Ishihara test plates. As app author Dan Kaminsky says:

If you can read the numbers on the left, you're not color blind.

You can almost certainly read the numbers of the right. That's because DanKam has changed the colors into something that's easier for normal viewers to read, but actually possible for the color blind to read as well. The goggles, they do something!

Not only does Kaminsky slip in a Simpsons joke, he's correct -- I can only barely make out the upper plate number on the left (and can't read the lower left plate at all), but I can easily read both plates on the right. This is a big deal.

Kaminsky says the technology is still experimental, but the reviews have been pouring in from around the world -- for anomalous trichromats (most "colorblind" people), this app does help. In a properly lit room, I can hold it up to my holiday sweater and finally see the red and green! It's a minor miracle for those of us who have accepted that we'll lack color vision forever. You can read more about DanKam at Dan Kaminsky's website. It's currently available for Android and iPhone devices (and I assume it also works on the new iPod touch that has a camera).

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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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