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The Quick 10: 10 Famous Beauty Pageant Contestants

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Whether it's becoming Wonder Woman or, you know, Oprah, many beauty queens have parlayed their time on the pageant circuit into bigger things.


1. Oprah. Her first stop on the road to world domination? Winning Miss Black Tennessee in 1972.


2. Cloris Leachman. The Des Moines native (had to throw that in there, you know) participated in the 1946 Miss America pageant as Miss Chicago.


3. Sarah Palin. She was crowned Miss Wasilla in 1984 and then went on to compete in the Miss Alaska pageant, where she placed third. You can see her compete in the talent competition with her flute and a mean rendition of "The Homecoming" by Nathan Hardy.

4. Lynda Carter. Even though Lynda Carter won the Miss World USA title in 1972, I think being Wonder Woman is cooler.

5. Halle Berry. Halle represented the U.S. in the Miss World competition 14 years later. Although she finished sixth, she does hold Miss Teen All-American and Miss Ohio titles.

6. Diane Sawyer. As "America's Junior Miss," Diane Sawyer got to promote Coca Cola at the New York World's Fair in the 1960s.

7. Vanna White. The world's most famous letter turner started out as a runner up for Miss Georgia USA 1978. She showed up as Pat Sajak's cohort just four years later.

8. Michelle Pfeffier. As Miss Orange County 1978, Michelle Pfeiffer turned it out in feathered hair and a tank top.

9. Imelda Marcos. After winning lots of small beauty pageants, the Iron Butterfly entered the Miss Manila pageant - and lost. After she protested the loss, the mayor declared her "Muse of Manila" instead.


10. Delta Burke. As Miss Florida 1974, Suzanne Sugarbaker's alter ego got to compete in the Miss America pageant. Her talent apparently didn't impress the judges - she did a dramatic reading about Anne Boleyn with a decidedly Southern twang - but she did win Miss Congeniality.


Other title holders include Kathie Lee Gifford (Maryland's Junior Miss 1970), Raquel Welch (second place in the 1957 Miss Southern California pageant), Michelle Yeoh (Miss Malaysia 1983) and Jeri Ryan (Miss Illinois 1990).

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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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